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Deal announced on teacher dismissal bill that governor would support



Credit Lillian Mongeau/EdSource Today

Joan Buchanan negotiated with adversaries on the issue, EdVoice and the California Teachers Association.

(This story has been updated to include a reaction from the California School Boards Association.)

Signaling the resolution of an acrimonious issue, Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, introduced a bill Friday to make dismissing teachers charged with severe misconduct quicker, easier and cheaper.

Buchanan praised the compromise that was reached, and said that Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed her version of the bill last year, would sign it. Brown spokesman Jim Evans confirmed in an email, “As introduced, the Administration supports Assemblymember Buchanan’s approach.”

“I want to thank the education community for its willingness to continue to work on this critical issue,” Buchanan said in a statement. “We share a common goal of keeping our children safe and providing a fair and efficient process.”

In a further sign of movement, Bill Lucia, CEO of EdVoice, an advocacy organization, said he would withdraw a proposed ballot measure dealing with teacher dismissals if Buchanan’s Assembly Bill 215, as proposed, becomes law by mid-June. In an unusual alliance, Lucia and the California Teachers Association, who have clashed over teacher evaluations, charter schools and, until now, teacher discipline and dismissals, issued a joint statement praising the compromise and each other’s efforts.

“AB 215 is the culmination of several years of effort by diverse stakeholders to address the need to reduce the complexity and cost of suspension and dismissal appeals,” Lucia said. “EdVoice is pleased to support and join the hard work of the CTA in arriving at these needed and significant improvements to current law.”

The teachers association had supported Buchanan’s bill last year. “AB 215 meets our goal of keeping our students safe by streamlining the dismissal process while maintaining due process for teachers,” said Dean Vogel, president of the teachers association.

The California School Boards Association, which led the opposition to Buchanan’s AB 375 last year and submitted its own bill this year with some similar elements to AB 215, was not included in the negotiations with EdVoice and the Brown administration. Update: In a statement issued several days after the release of the Buchanan bill, the association, said, “While there are a number of positive aspects of AB 215, there are also a number of deficiencies that do not adequately address and protect our students, parents and staff.” It said that one is the failure to include charges of violent and serious felonies as a reason for a mandatory leave of absence. The association said it would continue to lobby for its own bill.

Most of the big changes in Assembly Bill 215 would apply only to charges of egregious misconduct – acts that would include sexual abuse, child abuse and some drug crimes. While these make up a small percentage of firings – most dismissal cases are for unsatisfactory performance – they also are the most horrific, threatening children’s health and safety.

Superintendents already can immediately suspend teachers suspected of immoral conduct. Usually this has been done with pay, and districts have complained that the firing process can take too long and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lucia cited cases in which districts, to avoid costly hearings, reached resignation or transfer agreements in which they agreed to remove charges from a teacher’s record and not report them to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The commission has the authority to revoke teacher licenses.

AB 215 would address these complaints by:

  • Creating a separate, expedited hearing process after a school board has voted to fire a teacher for egregious misconduct. The case would go before only an administrative law judge, whose decision would be binding. (Either side could still appeal the decision to Superior Court.) Cases not involving egregious misconduct would continue as before, with hearings by a three-person panel consisting of an administrative law judge and two educators, one chosen by the district and one by the teacher.
  • Imposing a seven-month deadline for the administrative law judge to issue a decision in all dismissal cases, unless the judge agrees to a delay for good cause. This is the same deadline that Buchanan had proposed last year in AB 375, and both Lucia and the California School Boards Association opposed it as implausible and counterproductive. They said wrangling over evidence would cause delays, forcing judges to reset the clock or dismiss the case. But Lucia said Friday that he now believes the deadline would work. The bill specifies that egregious misconduct cases must become a court priority, going to the head of the docket. It would require the hearing to begin within 60 days. And it would streamline the process by eliminating the ability of either side to appeal evidentiary rulings to the Superior Court. This was another reason that cases were drawn out, Lucia said.
  • Clarifying the law to allow districts to suspend without pay teachers charged with egregious and immoral conduct.
  • Prohibiting districts from cutting deals with teachers to have charges of misconduct expunged from their record – potentially enabling them to relocate to an unsuspecting district. It also requires a district to disclose charges of misconduct that it has reported to the credentialing commission when another district asks about an employment application.
  • Permitting evidence of allegations of child abuse or sexual abuse more than four years old to be introduced.
  • Permitting dismissal charges for egregious misconduct to be filed at any time, not just during the school year.

Buchanan said that Brown had opposed limits on evidence and refiling of charges that were in AB 375, saying he wanted to give districts more flexibility. AB 215 removes them for cases involving egregious misconduct but applies them to other dismissal charges.

A series of high-profile sex abuse cases (among them, here, here and here) had turned the heat on the Legislature to strengthen the state’s dismissal laws. But lawmakers failed to do so during the past two years after contentious debates. In 2012, the state’s teachers unions pressured Assembly Democrats to bottle up a bill sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-San Fernando Valley, that they said would erode due process rights and could expose them to dismissals based on false charges. Last year, Buchanan worked with the California Teachers Association on AB 375, which she said represented a good-faith effort at compromise, only to have Brown veto it while encouraging her to try again.

At first she was reluctant, she said in an interview, but did in the end. “All parties put in hundreds of hours working through this,” Buchanan said. “AB 215 is fair and holds to our core belief that people who abuse children should not be in the classroom.”

John Fensterwald covers education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.

 

 

Filed under: Credentialing, Teaching

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25 Responses to “Deal announced on teacher dismissal bill that governor would support”

  1. David B. Cohen said

    on April 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Sounds like an example of what can be accomplished when folks work together instead of exchanging sound bites and press releases. This issue seemed all along like something that should be within reach for all sides to agree upon. The new law would directly affect very few people, but perhaps the same individuals and groups can build on this to look at other issues in a constructive way.

  2. Manuel said

    on April 5, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    Seems reasonable to me: the horrible accusations need to be dealt swiftly as police and prosecutors get involved. The garden variety can continue to be determined as has been the norm for some time.

    Why couldn’t they do that last year? I guess they had to have Gov. Brown more or less force them to compromise (no, I have no idea what happened behind closed doors, but it’s clear that he “convinced” Assembly Member Buchanan to “try again,” as reported).

  3. Floyd Thursby said

    on April 5, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    When the union defended Berndt and forced LAUSD to pay $40,000 to him to fire him, OMG, they proved they have no standards and just defend everyone on auto-pilot. They no longer deserve to have their views listened to as if they are a reasonable force with an open-minded, thoughtful opinion. They just need to be opposed after that, they proved their lack of basic integrity with that one and with several others I know of personally.

  4. Michael Dominguez said

    on April 6, 2014 at 1:20 am

    How is the term “charged” defined? This is not a minor question, in the LAUSD thousands of teachers are suspended and dismissed based upon charges by single or anonymous witnesses. Is “charge” a legal term and will it apply only to teachers or will it include other people who work in schools such as administrators?

    • Floyd Thursby replied

      on April 6, 2014 at 8:39 am

      Michael, this would be legitimate if you supported teacher dismissals in other ways. You’re just looking for excuses to maintain the status quo in which it is a byzantine process to ever fire a bad teacher. 91 fired in 10 years, 19 for performance, out of 300,000, is ridiculous any way you look at it and can’t be defended with rhetoric. You went too far. There was plenty of evidence against Berndt and the union knew it and chose to defend him anyways. The union ignores evidence against and only considers evidence for accused teachers. The union could have come up with a plan to police itself. Police do a pretty good job of this and many are fired. As a rule of thumb, if it’s impossible to be fired, some will take advantage, and some do. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. We have to remember this, if Vergara fails, don’t expect a reasonable alternative, expect more of what we’ve gotten for the past forty years, the failed status quo, bottom state, bottom nation, poverty the scapegoat even though Asians thrive in poverty.

      • Paul Muench replied

        on April 6, 2014 at 10:29 am

        If it weren’t for SCA-5 I would’ve ignored that last comment. But when searching the web I don’t find any evidence for that statement. To the contrary I find this article mentioining asians in NYC struggling with poverty:

        http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/guest-partner-immig-youth-article-1.1583524

        Why is SCA-5 important? Because a lot of people have been reminding us that asians are a diverse group of people. So how much does it make sense to lump them together? I think it is useful to have an accurate perspective on the diversity of the “Asian” community. Just as with other racial labels I suspect there are plenty of interesting stories hidden behind that label.

    • John Fensterwald replied

      on April 6, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      Good question, Michael. As applied, “charge” does not have to mean criminal charges have been filed by the police. It can mean there may be enough evidence to convince the school board to vote for dismissal. Teachers could be suspended without pay in cases of immoral or egregious misconduct.

      Districts actually already have had the authority to suspend without pay under the current law, but very few have done so, I am told. Some districts may choose to continue to suspend with pay. It will be optional. If an administrative law judge reverses the dismissal after a hearing, a teacher would get paid back.

      • Floyd Thursby replied

        on April 7, 2014 at 1:13 am

        In most of these cases, elected school boards owe their positions to donations and endorsements from the local teacher’s union, so they are intimidated out of even doing what they can. Serving children comes in second to guaranteeing re-election. Often on this board when union backers claim management isn’t pursuing dismissals, they know the union is behind the scenes pressuring just that.

        • Floyd Thursby replied

          on April 7, 2014 at 3:39 am

          As for Asians, they do very well in school when in poverty and have never let poverty be an excuse for bad study habits. As Obama said, you’re never so poor the only decision you can make in the evening is to turn on the TV and not read to your kids or do homework with them. It’s just not possible, it happens but is based on the poor being more likely to have bad habits rather than dollars and cents.

          Here’s a link: http://www.onlinecollege.org/2011/12/13/20-amazing-stats-about-asian-american-achievement/

          Overall, Asian-American students are doing well and living up to their status as the “model minority.” Interestingly, 30% of Asian-American and Pacific Islander students attend high-poverty schools, meaning that they’re not just doing well, they’re doing well at schools that are chronically underfunded and lacking in resources that other schools may have to offer.

          Here is another:

          http://theeducatedsociety.com/asians-on-education-what-poverty/

          California’s 2007 report stated that almost half of impoverished Asians were at or above grade level in English Language Arts, compared with a quarter of Hispanics.

          In talking with my Asian education colleagues in New York City, I found they held similar views.”Poverty may explain part of it, but Asian immigrants are poor AND they have a language barrier, so how do you explain the disproportionate results?” one asked. Everything I knew about poverty just did not add up when Asians came into the picture. (For that matter, immigrants from the West Indies — another minority group who have generally outperformed Blacks

          • Paul Muench replied

            on April 10, 2014 at 8:04 am

            But as your reference points out the means to a society that values education more is more supports:

            http://theeducatedsociety.com

        • navigio replied

          on April 7, 2014 at 6:53 am

          So let me make sure I understand this, earlier you said that something like 80% of voters don’t like unions. Yet now you’re saying that most schoolboard members owe their positions to the endorsement of unions. Why would voters vote for something they don’t like over something they do?

          Also, are you implying that you believe unions actually would rather have criminals in teaching positions than not?

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on April 7, 2014 at 3:56 pm

            Navigio, it’s one of those issues where a minority is able to skillfully maintain an advantage with a minority of the votes, similar to the NRA on the right, the defense lobby, etc.

            I’m not saying the majority of Californians oppose unions. Most Californians feel the teacher’s union should fight for better pay and that most teachers are underpaid. However, over 70% of Californians oppose the policy of LIFO and the difficulty of firing a bad teacher. The union is on auto-pilot, it could have refuesed to back Berndt, and LAUSD would have paid nothing, but they had their reps calling on his behalf and threatening a lawsuit for breach of due process, making it out to be a liberal cause. Berndt had one last party before going away for life. This is well-documented. Most union members would have said forget Berndt, but the union chose to back him.

            I think the union wants it to continue to be so difficult to fire a bad teacher that 19 are fired for performance in the state in 10 years, 91 including all.

            For school board elections, most voters pay little attention and get a card in the mail saying United Educators endorses, and nice faces, and think that it’s a teacher organization, not a union protecting LIFO. They don’t think much about it. Unions also exercise control over local newspapers’ endorsements. I know in San Francisco, every potential candidate kisses up to the union. They get backing from the union and win, for the most part. So the unions do not confront the issue directly.

            Have you noticed how angry union members on this board are over the idea of having a ballot initiative voted on directly? Yes, because they control hte legislators but this would be a poll of the people. They also indivdiualize each ballot measure and find an obscure clause and make it about that, so they convince many to vote against something based on a tertiary clause even if they support the general concept.

          • navigio replied

            on April 7, 2014 at 5:05 pm

            i dont know why you keep bringing this stuff up. its not relevant. the public defender should choose to not defend those charged with a crime who appear ‘obviously guilty’. im betting you would not support that. yet its exactly what you’re saying here.

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on April 7, 2014 at 7:12 pm

            No, but the union did defend him, and I’m saying that our spending is very low and many voters I speak with cite bad teachers in saying why they vote against increases in education spending. Our spending is near the bottom yet we have an educated electorate of people who moved here. Some say private schools make the rich not care, others say we are anti-intellectual, others say it’s NIMBYISM. All may have some truth, but when your kid has a bad teacher who keeps their job and is defended as a noble cause, and they win, you do feel disenfranchized and dehumanized, ignored. There are some unions who actively try to fire the worst performers yet seek higher pay for the best, such as the construction union in San Francisco. Even the police union has an internal division and actively seeks termination of bad cops. The teacher’s union is very unique in th eincredibly low number of people ever fired and the dogged determination to defend any and all comers. I believe if the union showed just a tiny amount of restraint, they’d get more respect and support, and their rigidness is probably going to lead to a defeat in Vergara, Davis or both. The Vergara arguments simply wouldn’ have been true if the union believed anyone should ever be fired for performance, but the facts prove they just don’t. It’smorally wrong. The union deals with children and morally any union or any organization should care more about children than anything. Their arguments that LIFO and huge costs to bring termination maintain teachers are specious.

          • Leah S replied

            on April 8, 2014 at 12:00 am

            Agreed, not all unions do this. If we even just pushed out 1% of our own we’d gain more respect and credit and avoid the lawsuits, because the Vergara lawsuit is misleading. They find the most egregious cases and make them look common, so if we agreed to easily fire the obviously horrible 1% rather than the just substandard/mediocre 15%, we would just have mediocrity but not these horror stories of teachers working 50 days of 180 or molesting kids and still getting the respect and defense of the union. When the union decides to defend these monsters, every teacher and union member is tainted with that decision. I love the union and wish they’d just throw 1% under the bus, the bottom 1% isn’t trying, is so obviously bad anyone with half a brain can tell, and is dragging the rest of us down. How they felt it was wise to pressure LAUSD to pay off Berndt will forever baffle me. Screw the losers, just forget them, protect the rest of us. I hate people who demonize teachers but we should demonize ourselves in the most extreme crazy cases like Berndt and the 50/180 teacher. I’ve had to teach after one terrible teacher, the following year, and can tell you a really bad teacher hurts other teachers by making our job that much harder the following year. I’m not talking about a teacher who doesn’t get a high enough text average but one we all know are bad, I know who they are, ones who have given up and aren’t trying and simply don’t care.

          • Gary Ravani replied

            on April 8, 2014 at 12:24 pm

            Leah:

            A couple of things about your statement.

            First, dismissal is not a collective bargaining issue. Dismissal is a matter of statute. If districts are offering incentives for a teacher to leave it strongly suggests they do not have any evidence (at that time) to bring dismissal charges. It should also be noted that district management can direct a teacher charged with some offense to leave that classroom at any time in order to protect students if that is deemed necessary.

            And second, when the union does move in a personnel issue, it is not to protect any given teacher or any given action/behavior, it is to protect due process rights and/or any other bargained rights under the negotiated agreement. That negotiated agreement belongs to all of the employees, as well as management, and it is incumbent on all parties to enforce it. All members of a bargaining unit, whether or not they may actually be “union members” (and some are not), are due equal protection under the agreement. If a union decided to throw some 1% “under the bus” as you suggested , the union would be subject to being sued under a concept known as :”the right to fair representation.” Unions cannot just unilaterally decide which bargaining unit members should be defended or not. That’s the law.

            There are districts with highly functioning Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) programs, as was thoroughly established in testimony in Vergara, that work with the union to support teachers in need of assistance. If
            teachers do not répond positively to assistance that failure can be used by districts as a “cause” in dismissal. The system works.

            Another thing that should be noted is that one of the reasons for establishing the Commissions on Professional Competence–two educators and an administrative law judge–was to lessen the chance that dismissal cases would be brought to superior court for trial on “wrongful termination” charges. it is in court where the charges really mount up.

          • Floyd Thursby replied

            on April 8, 2014 at 4:40 pm

            You’re again minimizing due process. It’s hugely burdensome and the system does not work. Many bad teachers hang on for many years harming many children. If the process worked, a teacher who calls in sick 130 of 180 days would lose their job long before the end of the school year, and we wouldn’t have large numbers of underperforming teachers. We wouldn’t have 12% call in sick the Tuesday before Thanksgiving with no fear of being fired. We wouldn’t have nearly the lowest test scores despite being an above average state in terms of income. The system is not working and there are many bad teachers you successfully protect with “due process”, to the detriment of young innocent children.

          • Don replied

            on April 8, 2014 at 6:59 pm

            My son lost many hours of special ed resource pull-out simply because the teacher decided not to do it, despite the clear requirement of the IEP. She should have been fired outright because there was no doubt as to the facts, instead she ended up at another school.

            The year before that, a similar thing happened. The regular resource teacher took a leave of absence for 8 months of the school year. I was told that she could not be replaced as per union rules so instead subs were sent in when they were available which was less than half the time. Obviously my son suffered so the teacher could have a leave. There’s indeed a leave of absence in education and it has to do with the attendance and quality of many teachers who use their protections to suit themselves at the expense of their students.

            Gary, the system may work for you on paper, but examples of abuse of public servitude are told thousands of times over by people across the state – stories of children who are routinely deprived of an education because union rules prevent the reasonable functioning of schools in order to protect teacher rights. What about student rights?

            I will say, with your background, I suspect you do represent the interests of unions accurately when you describe the ins and outs of policy. However, is your disinterest in data the reason why you dismiss the fact that no profession in the world has a dismissal rate like that of the teaching profession (.005) or do you really believe that, statewide, a system that dismisses a handful of teachers over a decade is truly filtering out the ones who don’t belong in a classroom?

          • Don replied

            on April 8, 2014 at 9:12 am

            Navigio, I see no reason why Floyd’s comment would be considered off-topic. In this particular case he’s speaking directly to the point. The lengths to which unions have gone in order to protect all teachers no matter how grievous the behavior has really dampened my overall opinion and support for the teacher unions. And I think that is true for a lot of people. It’s the reason why the union has shown some uncharacteristic flexibility on this issue. Public pressure.

      • Manuel replied

        on April 7, 2014 at 9:33 am

        John, this is disturbing. The way I read your note and its description of the soon-to-be-law I had to assume that someone was already being investigated by the police and that charges filed by the local District Attorney were imminent. This changes things.

        As for districts already being able to do suspend teachers, what will the new law then add to that? It seems that it simply makes it very clear to the public that the law has been “fixed” and we should just move along.

        • John Fensterwald replied

          on April 8, 2014 at 10:38 am

          Manuel: All allegations for dismissal under egregious misconduct would prompt an immediate suspension of a teacher or principal and a mandatory report to the police and so legal authorities would be involved automatically. However, there are two parallel tracks. Whether or not criminal charges, with a higher burden or proof, are filed would be determined by the District Attorney on her or her own timetable. Dismissal charges by the district would proceed based on evidence following the district’s investigation. Criminal indictments don’t have to be imminent for a district to vote to dismiss and a hearing held. At the same time, a DA may ask a district to hold off on proceeding with a dismissal while it continues its investigation. A teacher would still be suspended during that time.

          Districts have had the authority to dismiss teachers without pay in cases involving allegations of immoral or egregious misconduct (there is a distinction). No one seems to know how often district do that. Teachers who are suspended without pay for egregious misconduct can ask a Superior Court judge to certify a bond providing pay during the dismissal proceedings, but those bonds apparently are very hard for teachers to get.

          Hope that helps.

  5. Don said

    on April 8, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Leah,

    It is a mischaracterization to say that the Vergara plaintiffs used the most egregious actors to make their case. I testified myself as did hundreds of others about the effects of incompetent teachers at the schools my children attend. One big reason why underperforming schools have poor results is due to the “dance of the lemons’- moving tenured but terrible teachers to the only schools that will take them, the ones that are hard to staff. Vergara is not about Berndt and other of his ilk.

    • TheMorrigan replied

      on April 8, 2014 at 11:12 am

      Isn’t the following a mischaracterization?

      There was no “dance of lemons” for Elizabeth Vergara, one of those “egregious actors” in this drama. The teacher she had who is mentioned in the suit as a “grossly incompetent teacher” and who testified at the trial did NOT even have tenure when he taught Vegara. This particular teacher, eighth grade ELA teacher Anthony Mize, had proficient reviews from his administrators. His test scores matched those of his teacher peers in most areas. At no time did Vegara nor her parents complain about Mize’s teaching while she was in his class. In fact, Vergara’s CST scores went up after being in Mize’s class that year. So I guess, tenure is at the crux of this debate unless we are talking about Elizabeth Vegara’s situation. I guess test scores as an independent measurement are important in determining teacher efficacy unless we are talking about Elizabeth Vegara’s situation.

      While there is some truth to the dance of lemons and while I do think it is possible that some of those ten students had a “grossly incompetent teacher” experience at least some time in their lives, much of this trial was a mischaracterization and hasty generalization of the issues. Vegara is just one of the many.

  6. TheFrustratedTeacher (@tfteacher) said

    on April 29, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    It costs a lot of money to fire a teacher because district administrators do not do their jobs.

    I think teachers have had enough blame, and have balanced enough budgets with their pay cuts and pay freezes.

    You people who complain about teachers, schools and unions should spend 1 day in a school with YOUR children, who we have to smile at, and try to teach, as you send cookies for snack.

    Enough. Pass this bill and we will call for a national strike.

    • Don replied

      on April 29, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      Am I correct that you, a teacher, are telling us that California should not have a law to protect children from severe misconduct because teaching is hard work and possibly underpaid? If you have a gripe with the bill as written what is it or are you simply dead set against any effort to constrain teachers from gainful employment regardless of their actions and that administrators are to blame?

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