HARRISBURG - If Gov. Wolf wants more money for public education in the budget, he should think twice before vetoing a Republican-backed bill that would let schools set aside seniority when laying off teachers, a top GOP senator warned Tuesday.
"I can tell you this . . . the governor is going to want more dollars for education, and guess what we are going to want? We are going to want this piece of legislation to go along with any new dollars in education," said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre).
His comments came in a news conference called by Republican leaders in response to Wolf's promised veto of the so-called Protecting Excellent Teachers Act.
Beyond their broadsides on the fate of the layoff measure, it offered an early glimpse of how contentious budget negotiations could get as they hit high gear in the coming weeks, with many of last year's issues still in play.
That nine-month stalemate led to a freeze in state funding for public schools and nonprofit organizations that deliver social services to the poor, in some cases crippling their ability to function.
Wolf, in his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, has again advocated boosting public school aid, setting the stage for another battle over how much to give them and how to pay for it.
Last year, he pushed for new or increased taxes. Republicans rejected that plank time and again, and the gridlock ended in March only when Wolf declined to sign or veto their last pared-down budget proposal.
The teachers bill calls for eliminating seniority-based layoffs, instead basing those decisions on teacher performance ratings.
In a layoff situation, first to go would be teachers who have received failing grades, regardless of their years of service. Following them would be teachers who received a "needs improvement" rating. Seniority would determine suspensions among employees with the same overall performance rating.
The bill also would allow layoffs for economic reasons. Under current law, school districts can furlough employees only if there is a decrease in enrollment, a change in educational programs, or a consolidation of schools.
Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said Tuesday that the governor still plans to veto the bill. He contends it does not focus on how to address underperforming teachers, but instead narrowly deals with how school districts should handle "mass layoffs."
The goal, Sheridan said, should be restoring funding to districts that saw their aid whacked in 2011, Gov. Tom Corbett's first year in office, to avoid precisely the scenario - economic hardship - that would lead to layoffs in the first place.
"Gov. Wolf agrees with Republican leaders that we need to reform the system for measuring student success and teacher effectiveness, but we don't believe [the GOP-backed bill] is sufficient in doing that," Sheridan said.
Other opponents of the measure say the current system for measuring teacher effectiveness is relatively new and unproven, and should be improved.
Advocates of the legislation believe it would set up a fairer system for making difficult personnel decisions, and help keep quality teachers in the classroom.