Policy & Finance > Legislation

Brown vetoes teacher dismissal bill, urges one more attempt at a fix


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Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would change the complex system for dismissing teachers, while encouraging districts and teachers to keep negotiating a way to simplify the process.

“I share the authors’ desire to streamline the teacher discipline process, but this bill is an imperfect solution,” Brown wrote in a four-paragraph veto statement released Wednesday.

The veto of Assembly Bill 375 is a disappointment for its author, Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, the chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, who worked for a year on the bill, and a defeat for the California Teachers Association, which had strongly backed it. But the veto cheered opponents, including organizations representing school districts and administrators.

“We thank the governor for his leadership in vetoing the bill and recognizing the flaws. He appropriately called for reworking the bill, and we stand ready to do that,” said Vernon Billy, executive director of the California School Boards Association.

The bill would have applied to all dismissals, including those for unsatisfactory performance. But cases of student molestation in Los Angeles Unified drew public attention to the complicated process of firing teachers and district decisions to reach financial settlements to avoid costly legal fees. Last year, Los Angeles Unified paid elementary school teacher Mark Berndt $40,000 in back pay and legal fees so he would not contest dismissal charges against him. Since then, the district has agreed to pay $30 million in settlements to dozens of children whose families have filed claims against it alleging the children were molested by Berndt.

Last year, the CTA managed to kill Senate Bill 1530 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, which would have transferred the authority over firing teachers from a three-person Commission on Professional Competence to local school boards. The CTA argued that would have eroded teachers’ right to due process. This time, the school boards association and the advocacy organization EdVoice launched high-profile campaigns calling on Brown to kill AB 375.

Even though both sides profess to want to streamline the process, it’s not clear how a compromise can be reached. AB 375 had looked dead for the year after coming up short of votes in the Senate Education Committee. But it resurfaced with amendments last month and passed through the Legislature. Buchanan could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan

In a statement expressing her disappointment with the veto, Buchanan said the bill was the result of “exhaustive” work and built on her 18 years of experience as a school board member for the San Ramon Valley School District.

“As a former school board member, I’ve seen firsthand the problems with the current dismissal process,” the statement said. “In March, EdTrust West published a report that included surveys from districts on the issue of teacher dismissal for poor performance. In describing a successful dismissal, one principal reported, ‘All told, it took eight years and $200,000.’ This should not be acceptable to anyone.”

The bill would have streamlined the process, Buchanan said, and “solved a real problem identified by school districts, teachers and parents throughout the state.”

Brown praised features of AB 375 while singling out two technical points that troubled him.

“I am particularly concerned that limiting the number of depositions to five per side, regardless of the circumstances, and restricting a district’s ability to amend charges even if new evidence comes to light, may do more harm than good,” he wrote.

Buchanan had argued that an unlimited evidentiary process was one reason for the cost and length of time it takes to resolve cases.

AB 375 would have preserved the Commission on Professional Competence, which consists of an administrative law judge and two teachers or administrators. The bill’s chief feature would have set a seven-month time limit for the Commission to reach a decision – unless there was good cause to extend it. Lawyers for the districts opposed this provision.

Brown didn’t comment on this aspect but did agree that the bill “makes some worthwhile adjustments to the dismissal process” and eliminates some opportunities for delay. However, he wrote, other changes “make the process too rigid and could create new problems.”

Filed under: Legislation, State Education Policy

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12 Responses to “Brown vetoes teacher dismissal bill, urges one more attempt at a fix”

  1. CarolineSF said

    on October 12, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Paul describes the Commission on Professional Competence this way:

    Under existing law, a contested dismissal case is decided by a three-person committee (district chooses one member, teacher chooses one member, and an administrative law judge fills the third seat),

    EdSource Today describes it this way:

    AB 375 would have preserved the Commission on Professional Competence, which consists of an administrative law judge and two teachers or administrators.

    Since those aren’t the same thing, which is accurate?

    • John Fensterwald replied

      on October 12, 2013 at 8:21 am

      Paul is correct in his description of the selection process. The district and teacher each get to select a certificated educator. Districts prefer selecting administrators to represent them, but, as comments on previous posts have indicated, often end up with teachers because the academic credentials must be similar. Its difficult to find administrators with language credentials to serve on a case involving the dismissal of a Spanish teacher. Districts have argued that requiring similar academic credentials is irrelevant for cases involving misconduct, but AB 375 didn’t change the requirement – one of the less discussed objections of the bill’s opponents.

  2. Jerry Matchett said

    on October 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    As a retired teacher, with long experience, I think it is time to look to replacing administrators first. There are simply too many administrators who are there because they were not good teachers themselves and took the easy route of adding a master’s degree to leave the classroom and enter an office of responsibility.
    Remember, when an army fails, we replace the generals, not the infantry.

    • Regina Nunley replied

      on October 12, 2013 at 4:41 pm

      I fully agree about seeking more accountability from Administrators..although I have worked with a few (really few) agile and fair leaders, I have also been privy to colleagues insights that allude to the fact that fewer and fewer Administrators truly have their student’s AND staff’s best interests in mind…Sometimes what seems like an easy disciplinary action, like a Conference memo and some advice, may require more in depth strategies to either move a teacher to a higher grade where frustration is less likely to come up, suggest the person add to their credentials to have other opportunities besides just classroom, and/or recognize that not everyone who started in the classroom, in a certain grade, should remain there for the length of their career..I don’t think gross incompetence is as common as the media lets on , but if it is, then Admins must not be afraid to be very clear in the yearly Stull process WHAT needs to be amended, HOW it needs to be amended, and WHAT next steps will be taken if those strategies do not work…Lausd, my employer spends a lot (or used to) in training it’s teacher force – we need to be very cognizant that each teacher is an INVESTMENT, and Districts need to support their investments. I even noticed that Employee Assistance is no longer offered through the District, but one is expected to go through their own medical insurance. That is one benefit that should have been utilized by Administrators to support the stress and frustration teachers face daily that may affect performance. For those Admins that are more political and entertain little empathy – their students AND staff suffer. Maybe it’s time to include more training for Administrators to support the human capital they are over – not just on how to run a school and balance a budget.

  3. goodguy said

    on October 11, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Bill vetoed; old bill (Rodda’s) still applies for those are still waiting to be determined?

  4. Educator said

    on October 11, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Does anyone know the actual steps on how to remove an underperforming teacher? I keep hearing different stories. Some administrators tell me it’s actually not as difficult as the media makes it out to be (I know in my school a few teachers are no longer with us and the rumor is that they were removed through evaluations). Other administrators tell me it’s a full time job to try and remove a teacher so they don’t bother. Which one is it?

    • navigio replied

      on October 11, 2013 at 11:39 am

      It’s both. If you give up and say its impossible, it will never happen. If you make having quality educators in the classroom a priority, then making that happen is part of the job. As difficult as the media says it is, I’ve seen it happen with surprising speed. For anyone who says that is the most important in-school factor, I can never understand using the supposed difficulty as an excuse. And if you look at recent studies (eg LAUSD), they seem to indicate that when its difficult, the reason is because of mistakes or laziness on the administrators’ part. fwiw.

      • el replied

        on October 11, 2013 at 4:28 pm

        Agree with navigio that it is both. An administrator who makes it a priority can get a lot done. You’ll see people point to the number of teachers “fired” but in fact most ways to exit a teacher from the classroom aren’t that.

        Not to defend LAUSD, but they seem to have some unique issues due to their size (and possibly location) that make it more difficult for them than other districts, would be my analysis. It may simply be that more people who don’t know and don’t have to deal with the problem employee have to work together on it as a priority.

        I do think the rules can be better… but I am sympathetic to Brown’s concern that they could also be worse.

      • el replied

        on October 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm

        I’ve sat on a few interview panels for administrators, and it’s quite interesting to me how different the answers have been to the question of “how would you deal with a problem teacher?” You can see how the culture of different districts has shaped the various answers.

        • navigio replied

          on October 11, 2013 at 4:37 pm

          now you’ve piqued my interest el.. :-)

          if you feel comfortable sharing, I’d like hearing some of the different answers to that question.

          • el replied

            on October 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm

            navigio, I would say if you read the anecdotal section of the link, http://publicpolicy.stanford.edu/system/files/Teacher%20Project_Final%20Draft.pdf

            that that matches the flavor of the various stories I’ve heard. In some districts, they have ingrained in their culture that it’s impossible to remove a teacher. In others, they feel very confident that they can.

            The rest of that report is obnoxiously flawed in many ways; for example, they assign the totality of California score differentials to “teacher quality” without paying any attention to, say “student quality” or to other conditions inside schools. Given that the California workforce as a whole is generally quite high quality and given that we have such a large population of students and teachers, I find it curious to assert without much supporting data that California teachers are lower quality than in other states.

    • Paul replied

      on October 11, 2013 at 10:59 pm

      Educator, just to be clear, although this bill would have affected dismissals for any reason, the political focus was squarely on cases of alleged misconduct.

      Your question is about cases of poor performance, and there are many misconceptions about this topic.

      It is EXTREMELY easy to remove a California public school teacher. Many teachers in California now spend the first several years of their careers in substitute or temporary status. They may be dismissed summarily, without cause and without notice. Later (or from the beginning, for the rare, lucky candidate), a teacher will be hired by some district in probationary status. Through March 15th of the second year of probationary status, the teacher may be dismissed without cause effective at the end of a school year, or with cause and without notice. Every time that the teacher transfers to a different district, the clock is reset, and a new two-year probationary period begins. Thus, even experienced teachers are affected.

      Also, by law, teachers who work less than full-time when they join a school district remain in probationary status perpetually. Only full-time teachers ever become legally eligible for permanent (“tenured”) status.

      Some school districts (like my local district, in the San Francisco Bay Area) have been abusing temporary status (the Education Code restricts its use to very few special situations, but there is no tracking by the state, and no central enforcement mechanism). All teachers new to these districts are temporary, and remain so, year after year. In these districts, newcomers never achieve permanent status. As the remaining permanent teachers retire, transfer to other districts, or resign, an ever larger share of the workforce becomes subject to dismissal without cause.

      Charter schools, which serve a growing share of California’s student population and account for a growing share of the state’s public school employment, are exempt from the provisions of the Education Code dealing with dismissal. Fundamentally, charter schools dismiss teachers without cause and without notice.

      Poor performance is likely to be apparent early in a teacher’s employment with a particular school district, when there are no restrictions on dismissal. In the rare cases where a pattern of poor performance emerges late in a teacher’s employment with a district, when the teacher has already passed from substitute or temporary to probationary to permanent status, the principal and the human resources department must document the poor performance.

      This begins in the legally-mandated teacher evaluation process (Stull Act). Optionally, a district may participate in PAR (fewer and fewer do, because it costs money and there is a surplus of credentialed teachers), under which a poorly-performing teacher is entitled to receive support from peer teachers. Finally, the district makes a finding, invoking one of the grounds for dismissal in Ed Code 44932(a). There are various notice periods, and if the teacher contests the school district’s decision, the teacher may request a hearing. Under existing law, a contested dismissal case is decided by a three-person committee (district chooses one member, teacher chooses one member, and an administrative law judge fills the third seat), called a Commission on Professional Competence. Under existing law, standard rules of discovery, evidence and procedure for legal disputes apply.

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