Throughout the legislative session, most of our work is in the House and Senate education committees. Last week two bills that could significantly impact education were heard in committees outside education. HF 1200, a bill that would require districts to provide paid family and medical leave and HF 7 a bill that would require districts to provide part time employees with earned sick time were heard.
The paid family and medical leave bill (HF 1200) is very similar to a bill heard last year. Proponents of the bill believe all employees should have financial and job security when an illness or change in family occurs. MSBA testified that although we understand the intent, the funds needed to implement the bill's language would be significant and have to come from the general fund, which would mean classrooms and students would be significantly impacted.
Under HF 1200, districts would be required to pay at least 50% of an insurance premium, much like unemployment insurance. Employees would be expected to pick up the remainder through payroll deductions. HF 7 bill language requires employers, including school districts, to provide part time employees with one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
Our primary concern with both bills is cost to schools. School boards do not have the authority to levy for the funds that would be needed to cover the employer portion of this proposal. In addition, when employees are out, districts must hire a sub – another direct cost to the outcome of this bill. Since schools don’t produce a product, such as widgets, and can’t increase a price per se, the funds would need to come out of the general fund, in other words, the classroom.
There is also the soft cost of administration and reporting of the program at the district level. At a time when most schools in Minnesota are experiencing budget deficits and making cuts, especially in the midst of a pandemic, how are schools to pay the cost?
Another question is how collective bargaining would be impacted? If passed, would this statewide benefit be a part of the local bargaining negotiations, would it supersede negotiations or both? How does this align with currently negotiated paid time off in collective bargaining agreements (CBA) for similar reasons for leave? Something that is problematic and we asked the author to consider is the July 1, 2021 effective date – this date is in the middle of the teachers’ CBA (2021-2023).
Finally, due to the nature of the workforce within our schools, there may be a potential for a greater need for the number of substitutes. Employees could potentially be out of a classroom 24 weeks of the school year, or longer if they were to use their accrued sick/vacation time. If this were the case, our HR representatives who struggle now to hire subs, wonder how would an adequate number of highly qualified, substitute teachers and other support professionals could be secured when they are already in such short supply? It is our responsibility to keep continuity in the classroom with a highly-qualified teacher in front of our students.
Both bills were passed out of committee and continue to move through committees.
Two bills are also of concern to school districts. HF 37
creates a workers’ compensation presumption for eligible school employees who contract COVID-19. The presumption would apply retroactively from July 15, 2020,until July 30, 2021. MSBA is not supportive of this and has testified against it in at the Worker’s Comp Advisory Council and House Labor committee.
MSBA also testified with concerns on HF 1054
, a bill providing unemployment for school district contractors, such as bus drivers and nutrition workers, who have for years worked under the presumption that the job position was during the school year and unemployment benefits were not available. Contractors would pass on any increased costs relating to unemployment to our districts. In school districts, unemployment is a reimbursable expense that is recovered from taxpayers in the unemployment levy. MSBA shared its concern that with the addition of these part-time employees' unemployment claims, property taxes would be increased for our already stretched homeowners. We respectfully asked for an understanding of taxpayer interactions and consideration be given to funding this legislation.
We will continue to share information with you in our upcoming Chat Rooms and Advocacy - At Home Edition meetings.