SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would prohibit school administrators from using seniority as a factor in layoffs passed the Senate on Friday and moves to the House.

SB73 would allow districts to consider a school's personnel needs and an employee's performance evaluation among other factors when deciding to fire someone, but not the length of time they've been employed there.

"It does prohibit the 'last hired first fired' from being the mandated policy for reduction in force," said sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

Stephenson said such policies protect poor teachers simply because they've been around a long time.

Opponents say there needs to be provisions that would allow for seniority to be considered, since there might not be a low-performing employee at a school where a reduction in staff is necessary.

"At some point, there needs to be some objective criteria," said Geoffrey Leonard with the Utah School Employees Association.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, said the bill is part of a larger attack on the rights of workers.

"I just don't understand why we want to take away rights that we have given to employees," he said. "I know that this is a national movement of doing away with the rights of workers and the attempt to really diminish and destroy the middle class."

Stephenson countered, "I think there is something more important than rights of workers, and that is rights of children to receive an excellent education from the best, highest-qualified school teachers."

Stephenson's bill originally would have also allowed districts to take away career status from teachers whose students perform poorly. Career status means teachers have worked for a minimum of three to five years and can't be fired without a school providing a method for improvement and a cause for termination.

After outcry from teachers saying such a policy would create a "mass exodus" of teachers from schools with low-income children, Stephenson decided to re-examine that portion of the legislation during the interim.

The bill passed the Senate 19-6.

e-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com