Advocacy organization EdVoice is seeking a ballot initiative to speed dismissal of teachers suspected of abuse. Credit:

After bills to streamline the dismissal process for abusive teachers failed two years in a row, a Sacramento-based nonprofit wants to put the issue to voters.

The advocacy organization EdVoice has submitted a proposed ballot measure with the arresting title “Stop Child Molesters, Sexual Abusers and Drug Dealers From Working In California Schools Act” to the attorney general for review. EdVoice intends to gather signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

“It shouldn’t take a legion of lawyers, endless paperwork, millions of taxpayer dollars …  to address the challenge of dismissing the perpetrators of egregious misconduct to school children and other school staff,” EdVoice Chief Executive Officer Bill Lucia wrote in an email. “We helped in the filing of the proposed measure on behalf of individuals and groups frustrated that the Legislature cannot seem to solve a problem that unfortunately exists in school districts throughout geographic regions of the state.”

Two years ago, a bill sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-San Fernando Valley, was bottled up in the Assembly amid fierce opposition from teachers unions; the California Teachers Association said that SB 1530 went too far in tearing up teachers’ legal protections. Last year, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, passed the Legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Although the dismissal-tightening provisions in Buchanan’s AB 375 would have applied to far more cases, organizations representing school administrators and school boards argued it didn’t go far enough to simplify and clarify the dismissal process. Lucia also strenuously opposed it.

EdVoice’s ballot proposal more closely resembles Padilla’s bill in key respects. It would apply only to “egregious” cases of misconduct – sexual crimes against children, child abuse and drug crimes, with some exceptions ­– and would not change the law governing the bulk of dismissal cases: efforts to fire administrators and teachers for poor performance. It would eliminate dismissal hearings by a three-person Commission on Professional Competency and replace it with a hearing before an administrative law judge alone. The commission consists of an administrative law judge and two experienced educators, one chosen by the school district and one by the accused teacher or administrator.

Like both Padilla’s and Buchanan’s bills, the proposed ballot measure would remove the four-year limit on keeping charges against teachers and administrators in their personnel files and allow charges against them during the summer.

But it also would go further than Padilla’s and Buchanan’s bills in speeding up trials and building a case against accused teachers by:

  • Making the ruling by the administrative law judge final, subject to appeal in Superior Court. Padilla’s bill would have made the hearing judge’s determination advisory, subject to a school board’s decision;
  • Applying many of the provisions also to classified or non-teaching jobs at the district;
  • Requiring that hearings on “egregious” charges be the top priority of an administrative law judge and be kept on track;
  • Allowing the unlimited introduction of evidence and ability to amend charges at any time;
  • Prohibiting school districts from cutting a deal – or agreeing to “gag orders” – with teachers to remove evidence of egregious misconduct from employee records (unfounded allegations could be removed but only by a vote of the school board);
  • Requiring the party that loses on appeal to Superior Court to pay legal fees;
  • Enabling districts to recover any back pay and pension costs that the district paid out to teachers between the time that formal dismissal charges were filed and the finding of guilt.

Districts now have the authority – and in some instances are required – to place teachers on leave after allegations of egregious and other serious misconduct. And much of the expense that districts face in salary and other costs is during the investigation by the district and the police before dismissal charges are filed.

But districts also have complained that the hearing process before the Commission on Professional Competence is too drawn out and expensive. That has led some districts to cut deals with teachers to get them to resign, including $40,000 that Los Angeles Unified paid elementary teacher Mark Berndt not to contest his dismissal. (Berndt pleaded guilty last month to molesting two dozen of his students. The district has paid out $29.5 million to settle suits filed by families so far.)

This week, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy reiterated his call for changes in the dismissal law after a Nevada teacher was charged with kidnapping a 16-year-old girl who had moved into his home without her parents’ consent. The teacher, Melvyn Sprowson, 45, had taught in a Los Angeles Unified elementary school for eight years before resigning in 2011 after the district moved to dismiss him following accusations that he fondled two female students and showed a pornographic video in the classroom, among other allegations, according to the Los Angeles Times. Deasy told the Times that the district presented evidence to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to revoke Sprowson’s teaching credential, but that the Commission failed to do so. Sprowson apparently lied on his application for a teaching position in Nevada, and L.A. Unified didn’t provide information that would have tipped off the Nevada district as to why Sprowson had resigned.

In a fiscal analysis that it prepared for the attorney general, the Legislative Analyst’s Office concluded that the ballot measure, if it passed, would have a minor impact overall. There would be a negligible impact on the state, and school districts could see small potential savings through lower legal expenses and the recovery of wage and pension costs paid to dismissed teachers.

Since the EdVoice initiative has not yet been approved for circulation, the California Teachers Association declined to comment at this point. However, a spokeswoman told the Sacramento Bee, “Our members are the last ones who want child molesters in the schools.”

The CTA fought hard to kill the Padilla bill in the Assembly. However, spending money to defeat an initiative claiming it would help keep molesters out of the classroom will pose a big dilemma for the union.

John Fensterwald covers state 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.

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  1. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 9 years ago9 years ago

    Please. Mark Berndt and Melvyn Sprowson are anomalies. CTA should get behind this reform without hesitation: the present system is disgracefully skewed to protect wrong-doers and harms children, families
    and taxpayers who have to foot these huge bills. Where do I sign this initiative petition?

  2. Rene Diedrich 9 years ago9 years ago

    There is no doubt that there has to be protections afforded to students, and that is a priority; however, the motives for this bill are not so altruistic. The war against teachers is escalating as corporate favored education reform hits high gear, and districts like LAUSD, which has a sordid history of protecting perverts, turns its egregious incompetence and corruption on teachers. There are over a thousand teachers wrongfully terminated since John Deasy became a … Read More

    There is no doubt that there has to be protections afforded to students, and that is a priority; however, the motives for this bill are not so altruistic. The war against teachers is escalating as corporate favored education reform hits high gear, and districts like LAUSD, which has a sordid history of protecting perverts, turns its egregious incompetence and corruption on teachers. There are over a thousand teachers wrongfully terminated since John Deasy became a leader, and presently the teacher jail runs in two hour shifts; in a shroud of secrecy, there are 260 teachers housed now according to district sources, who are notoriously mendacious and devious about disclosing skewed stats. With four teacher jails and an area that houses teachers in the down town HQ, the total is probably many more as there are many kept under house arrest to defuse the potential scandal the actual number may cause. These teachers are almost all older, higher paid employees close to vesting in full pensions, lifetime healthcare and the retirements they certainly deserve. Many are being ruined with absurd accusations, including one teacher who is jaild for having antibacterial soap in class, another who requested a transfer and MS teacher targeted and fired because he taught creation myth as per the standards , not out of some religious intentions. That particular teacher has put almost 30 years into his career with LAUSD. His was featured on GMA twice , he has a fullbright scholar and until this he had only gotten glowing evaluations in his file. Decades of unstained service are meaningless, even the accuser who recants and parent that begs to have a teacher freed are not enough to change his or fate.the motive Deasy has is not protecting children as his comportment at Marymonte demonstrated. He endangered students who were molested as well as presented a potential for new victims in his failure to disclose Mark Berndt’s antics. He blamed police protocol, which angered law enforcement who knew there was no excuse for allowing 8 year olds posibly exposed to semen thus STDs, AIDs, Hep and other assorted coties languish for a year without being checked. Deasy, afforded media favor that twisted the truth to make him heroic, was ultimtely reponsible for the circumstances because she had only assigned 4 administrators to this campus, a year round, overcrowded school where students face every conceivable disadvantage. An ESin SanMarion 1/3rd the size has 8 as does every school,give or take one or two suits. This information is readily available on the state site but has ot been scrutinized, nor has Deasy’s comportment, which includes interfering in a police investigation which is a felony.
    While its Orwellian, the simple answer to this is much more just: , cameras need to be plaed in classrooms to monitor all parties .
    There are already cameras inhales and common areas. So these allusions to privacy are nonsense. Indeed LAUSD oppresses teachers with privacy rules that seem incredibly arbitrary. Teachers do abide them, but John Deasy does not . After Miramonte the hysteria was thick and kids joked that getting a teacher fired was easy. To their credit, not a lot exploited that, and the ones who did tended to recant . Administrators are under intense pressure now to go after teachers, which they do . Some end up jailed, others are evaluated out, laid off ( ACLU has declared seniority unfair) is laced, reconstituted and many claim to have been notified of some missing papers, coursework or certification in memos that inform them they are now unemployed. Some say they actually have these things but no one in the boated dysfunctional offices is willing to sort this out.
    In the meantime, the data driven district is deliberately obtuse about the dismissals while openly recruiting subs and TFA interns to fil the positions of credentialed teachers. We estimate that Deasy may have left 20,000 educators unemployed in th last several years.
    And what about our union? That is the billion dollar question. It has been complicit in concealing the truth from teachers and the public. The reps actively sabotage the teachers in jail and the CBA LAUSD and UTLA have yet to negotiate is rumored to put 30% of evaluations on test scores, which are far from accurate or adequate I determining any one teacher’s performance. This plot is thick, but the audit of CTC has exposed the machinations of a system afflicted by too much funding, to little integrity and the unchecked greed of plutocrats who are exploiting children (“assets”) to siphon off the taxpayers’ money which is being spent now on edtech and Common Vore (CCSS) which will make NCLB look good to everyone truly invested in the education of these kids, namely parents, teachers and tax payers. As former ” human capital” at LAUSD , I assure you these children only get some semblance of that Eucation because of the dedicated teachers who are constantly undermined & disrupted by reform. These children are herded about like livestock, denied access to the arts, to wholesome food and safe, sanitary conditions. There are no longer custodians to keep floors clean, no nurses to assure students are well and have access to emergency are. Some students have died because of this. LAUSD has essentially closed libraries, cut most intervention counseling and hasn’t provided remediation in a decade or more. Presently, class size is so lawless there are often not enough dress for studentsto sit in. In high schools class size hovers around 45 . I had 6 classes with about 30-35 a couple years ago. I was exhausted but held it together because of my strong rapport with kids in my classes. But I would be lying if I said I gave them all the attention they deserve and desperately need in some cases.
    There is a school to,prison pipeline, fueled by mostly truants who fill the harsh juvie halls and slip away to feed the penal industry, whic. No longer wastes money trying to reform prisoners. Reforms did away with reform. Test mad drilling has driven students back to the streets, and they know as well as we do that they are being forced into lives that serve the plutocracy. The educatation industrial complex manufactures failure which it sells as hope. This is a trillion dollar scam that dodges taxes by playing fast and loose with the rules that distinquish public from private sectors, while the most egregious offender Pearson was just busted for doing just that, it is unlikely to impede te corporation’s wild growth with Bill Gates, Eli Broad and Waltons invested in CCSS, a mandated curricuilum imposed by Broadie and Gates cohort Arne Duncan. The odds are many poor students of color are doomed to become prison inmates or Walmart wage slaves at the rate this country is headed.
    Without academic freedom, due process or a free press, we have no Democracy. So the public will react exactly as the oppressors expect them to, and they will vote against Democracy out of anger and fear. Maybe teachers need to accept they have culpability for this, as they have remained to dependent on their unions for too much for too long. Most will tell you they do not think a teacher should be impossible to fire, a myth even they believe, but how many really spoke out about that? How many demanded more influence on the contract? How many said nothing while surrounded by te most obvious corruption, croneyism an incompetence? Too few. And ow we are paying for it.
    But no adult will pay as dearly as these kids do.

  3. el 9 years ago9 years ago

    With a title like that, you can probably slide any legal language into it and get it passed.


    • John Fensterwald 9 years ago9 years ago

      Then again, el, the title may not — probably won’t — make it on the ballot summary. The AG chooses that.

  4. Paul Muencj 9 years ago9 years ago

    How does CA law compare with other states?

  5. navigio 9 years ago9 years ago

    The last sentence is right on and this is because of perception. The problem is, taking this to the voters will give the impression that molestor and drug dealer teachers is the norm. In that sense, this may end up hurting public education a lot more than it will help it.