Credit: California Channel
Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, said that there wasn't enough buy-in from teachers and parents to support AB 934 at this point.

The latest legislative effort to extend the probationary period for teachers faltered Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee when the bill’s author failed to find the votes to move the bill forward.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, the author of Assembly Bill 934, had hoped to navigate a narrow middle way amid opposition from teachers unions, who called the bill an attack on teachers’ due-process rights, and education groups that called the latest version of the bill a retreat from a comprehensive approach to reform.

Only two of nine senators on the committee supported the bill, with five senators opposed and two not voting,* which likely will mean it’s dead. But committee Chairwoman Carol Liu, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, one of the bill’s two supporters, granted reconsideration, giving Bonilla the opportunity to amend the bill during the recess in July to win over converts on the committee. The Senate Rules Committee would have to grant a waiver for reconsideration – by no means automatic.

AB 934 was the last bill standing this year to overturn teacher protection laws that were the subject of the lawsuit Vergara v. the State of California and the California Teachers Association, which is still winding it way through state courts.

Wednesday was the final day for the Senate committee to take up education bills from the Assembly. It passed Assembly Bill 2548, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, which will give the Legislature a say in molding the new school accountability and improvement system that the State Board of Education is designing.

And, by a narrow vote, it approved AB 1084, another bill by Bonilla, which would ban for-profit online charter schools and those nonprofit online charters that are operated and supplied by a for-profit parent. The primary target is the California Virtual Charters or CAVA, which is run by the national company K12, Inc. At the request of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the office of State Controller Betty Yee will do a comprehensive financial audit of CAVA (see previous story for background).

California is one of a half-dozen states that grant due-process protections, known as tenure, to new teachers after two years or less on the job. Bonilla’s bill would have extended probation, during which teachers can be dismissed without having to cite a cause, to a third year.

In testimony, Fremont Unified Superintendent Jim Morris said teachers who might have proven to be excellent, given another year of probation and coaching that the bill would require, aren’t given the benefit of the doubt under a two-year system and are let go.

Donna Artukovic, representing the California State PTA, said that many teachers, after the “shock” of the first year, “tentatively find their footing in the second year.” It’s only in the third year that it becomes clear whether teaching will work – or not.

But Jeff Freitas, secretary treasurer of the California Federation of Teachers, called the bill “a direct assault” on teachers that will “deter prospective teachers from entering the classroom.”

“Fewer due-process rights will not improve education,” he said.

Senators cited a range of reasons for voting no. Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, who had sponsored a similar bill in the past year, said he was struggling with changes from earlier versions. Another Republican, Andy Vidak of Hanford, said he had only now seen the most recent wording and doubted it could be improved in time this summer.

The bill had the support of mainstream education groups – the PTA, the California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators.

But Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, said that the opposition from both ends of the political spectrum – unionized teachers as well as supporters of the plaintiffs in the Vegara lawsuit – showed a need for more buy-in by teachers and parents.

Bonilla, however, said that she turned to administrators groups for amendments after the teachers unions declined to work with her. Moving the bill forward, she said, would be the only way to force further negotiations this year. Otherwise, another year would be lost, she said.

“It is frustrating when two opposing sides are not only unwilling to compromise, but are vehemently reluctant to work together to achieve the mutual goal of providing a high quality education for all California students,” she said in a statement.

*Voting for AB 934 were Sens. Carol Liu and Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. Voting against were  Sens. Bill Monning, D-Santa Cruz; Connie Leyva, D-Chino; Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia); Marty Block, D-San Diego, and Andy Vidak, R-Hanford. Sens. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, and Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, abstaining. 

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  1. Doc Ford 7 years ago7 years ago

    Member Bonilla’s AB934 has some opportunities for good for teachers, administrators, and the communities they serve. But there is also a major flaw in the legislation. Until 1983 it took three years for a teacher to gain tenure in California. A probationary dismissal included a hearing before an ALJ, but his decision was only advisory to the school board, not binding. But SB 813 changed it to our current two-year probationary period and the trade-off … Read More

    Member Bonilla’s AB934 has some opportunities for good for teachers, administrators, and the communities they serve. But there is also a major flaw in the legislation.

    Until 1983 it took three years for a teacher to gain tenure in California. A probationary dismissal included a hearing before an ALJ, but his decision was only advisory to the school board, not binding.

    But SB 813 changed it to our current two-year probationary period and the trade-off was that probationary teachers became at-will employees. They could be terminated at any time with no reason given.

    The opportunity here is to revert to three years with one difference. The decision of the law judge would be binding.

    The major flaw in the AB934 is conflating the layoff process with the dismissal process. One of the two is solvable.

    Layoffs are done for economic purposes or as a result of programmatic changes.

    Dismissals are done for reasons of poor performance or for disciplinary reasons.

    I believe there is an opportunity in locally negotiating a dismissal process that includes both just cause and due process and a local hearing in front of an ALJ or a three-person panel headed by a neutral as is currently done in fact-finding proceedings. The majority decision must be binding.

    But layoffs must be based on seniority, as they are now. Even under the current system, there are “skipping” exceptions to the seniority rules for programmatic purposes. And those should remain.

    In an economic layoff for declining enrollment or district mismanagement, seniority rules are the only barrier to unfairly laying off the more senior teachers who are making higher salaries than newer teachers costing less.

    I completely understand the feelings and emotions of parents who have a child in a class with a young, vibrant, enthusiastic teacher who is about to lose her job because of the district’s perceived economic necessity while stodgy, mean Ms Senior keeps hers.

    Unfortunately, school district managers don’t necessarily think that way. They think with their wallets. During the massive teacher layoffs of 2007-2010, many school districts illegally “non-reelected” many “at-will” probationary teachers to avoid the expense of the layoff procedure.

    They not only terminated, young, vibrant, enthusiastic newer teachers, they also put a permanent stain on those teachers’ records making it very difficult for them to get jobs elsewhere. Why? Because there is a question on school district job applications that asks if the applicant has ever been dismissed, resigned in lieu of a dismissal, or non-reelected from another school district.

    Additionally, Seniority rules take the politics and personalities out of the layoff determination or the order in which they will be re-hired if finances improve.

    A lack of seniority rules to protect otherwise good teachers from the arbitrary and capricious decisions of districts on layoffs would cost school districts more money and headache in the long run as teachers and their union would certainly take them to court.

    So, evaluations of teachers must be kept out of the economic layoff process. If a more experienced teacher has become ineffective, there is an evaluation procedure and remediation process in the contract the district has negotiated in good faith with its local teachers union.

    Moving the dismissal of an ineffective or bad teacher into the layoff procedure is what removes “due process” rights that all employees should have. Specifically, it is against the 5th Amendment to the Constitution which states, in part, you cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. A job has been ruled by the courts as a property right.

    The school district should insist that its school site administrators learn and follow the contractual procedure. If the administrator follows the simple rules and the teacher doesn’t improve, then implement the Education Code statutory dismissal procedure.

    But don’t use the layoff procedure, cumbersome as it already is, to threaten or get rid of senior teachers for any reason. Adding subjective evaluations to the other criteria the district needs to put together for a layoff priority list would drag out the layoff process because the district would have to show cause for moving up the veteran teacher to the head of the layoff line. And who would judge?

    The current seniority-based layoff procedure, with its exceptions to seniority based on the needs of the district and its students, is appropriate. It’s objective and based on verifiable data. Mixing in the subjectivity of an administrator’s evaluations of a teacher into the process would be counterproductive to the economic intent of layoffs.