Category Archives: Unions

Dismissal bill falters in Assembly

With teachers and organized labor rallying against what they called an unnecessary attack on their rights, a bill that would make it easier to fire teachers and administrators accused of serious sexual and violent offenses against children failed to pass the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday. Sen. Alex Padilla’s controversial SB 1530 will be dead for the session unless he can persuade one more Democrat to reverse positions within the next week .

The bill had bipartisan support in the Senate, where it passed 33-4, but, in a test of strength by the California Teachers Association, only one Democrat, Education Committee Chairwoman Julia Brownley, and all four Republicans backed it in the crucial committee vote. The other six Democrats either voted buy clomid online against it (Tom Ammiano, San Francisco; Joan Buchanan, San Ramon) or didn’t vote (Betsy Butler, El Segundo; Wilmer Carter, Rialto; Mike Eng, Alhambra; and Das Williams, Santa Barbara).

The bill follows shocking incidents of sexual abuse in Los Angeles Unified and elsewhere, the worst of which involved Mark Berndt, 61, who’s been accused of 23 lewd acts against children at Miramonte Elementary in LAUSD. Padilla, a Democrat from Van Nuys, said SB 1530 responded to complaints from superintendents and school board members that it takes too long and is too expensive to fire teachers facing even the worst of charges. Rather than go through hearings and potential appeals, LAUSD paid Berndt $40,000, including legal fees, to drop the appeal of his firing.

Under current law, dismissal cases against teachers and administrators go before a three-person Commission on Professional Competence, which includes two teachers and buy amoxil online an administrative law judge. Its decision can be appealed in Superior Court.

Narrow band of ‘egregious’ cases

SB 1530 would have carved out a narrow band of exceptions applying to “egregious or serious” offenses by teachers and administrators involving drugs, sex, and violence against children. In those cases, the competence commission would be replaced by a hearing before an administrative law judge whose strictly advisory recommendation would go to the local school board for a final decision, appealable in court.

The bill also would have made admissible evidence of misconduct older than four years. Berndt had prior reports of abuse that had been removed from his file,  because a statute of limitations in the teachers contract in LAUSD prohibited their use.

School boards already have final say over dismissal of school employees other than teachers and administrators, so the bill would extend that to efforts to remove “a very creepy teacher” from the classroom,” as Oakley Union Elementary School District Superintendent Richard Rogers put it. “What is more fundamental than locally elected officials responsible for hiring and dismissal?” he asked.

The bill has the support of the administrators and school boards associations, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and the LAUSD president, Monica Garcia, who described her fellow board members as “seven union-friendly Democrats” who want to “get rid of people who will hurt our children.”

Current law works

But Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, countered that “SB 1530 solves nothing, places teachers at unfair risk, and diverts attention from the real accountability issues at LAUSD.” Turning the tables, Fletcher, CTA President Dean Vogel, and others have filed statements with the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing to investigate Superintendent John Deasy’s handling of misconduct allegations in the district.

The argument that current law works resonated with Buchanan, who served two decades on the San Ramon Valley School Board. Calling the bill “intellectually dishonest” because nothing can prevent another Miramonte from happening, she said, “We never had problems dismissing employees.” She acknowledged that the “long, expensive dismissal process” needs to be streamlined, but the bill doesn’t get it right. A teacher at a school in her legislative district was accused of sexual misconduct by a student who got a bad grade. That teacher “deserves due process.”

The two teachers on the Commission on Professional Competence provide professional judgment that’s needed to protect the rights of employees, said Patricia Rucker, a CTA lobbyist who’s also a State Board of Education member. “We do value the right to participate and adjudicate standards for holding teachers accountable,” she said.

Fletcher said that school boards would be subject to parental pressure in emotionally charged cases, and, as a policy body, should not be given judicial power. Assemblyman Ammiano, a former teacher, agreed. “A school board is not the one to make the decision,” he said.

Julia  Brownley said that she too was concerned about false charges against teachers but would support the bill, for it “will give districts tools” for rare circumstances. The bill would make the dismissal process more efficient and definitive. And she agreed with Padilla that the bill ensured due process for teachers, who’d be allowed to present their case, with witnesses, before an administrative judge and appeal an adverse decision to Superior Court.

Oakley Superintendent Richards said that the CTA misstated what SB 1530 does and “has taken such an extreme position on this issue that they have lost credibility.” The union’s real fear is that the bill will be “a nose under the camel’s tent” to change the dismissal process for all teachers. And that, he said, is unfounded.

Padilla was to have issued a statement last night on the setback in the committee but didn’t. Update: Padilla issued a statement this morning that reads, in part:  “SB 1530 was narrowly crafted to focus only on cases in which school employees are accused of sex, violence, or drug use with children. It is difficult to understand why anyone would oppose a measure to protect children. It is very disappointing.”

Leaders who don’t protect students from predators violate public trust

As a former counselor in a facility for teenagers who had been physically and sexually abused, I witnessed the indelible impact of this abuse on young men and women. As I read the stories about the sexual abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles Unified, I remembered these young people and the destruction that twisted adults had wrought on their lives. Then I waited for the calls for reform from those with the power to make changes.

After all, the allegations are monstrous. The possibility that school officials may have known about the sexual abuse and done nothing is appalling. The fact that the Los Angeles Unified had to pay an alleged pedophile $40,000 to leave the school rather than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to follow teacher dismissal laws is unbelievable. Worst of all is the knowledge that this situation could have been prevented by lawmakers in Sacramento.

Three years ago, the Los Angeles Times documented multiple cases of teachers who had abused students with little or no consequences. The articles revealed how the ten-step, state-mandated dismissal process for certificated staff including teachers (all other employees have the normal legal protections against arbitrary dismissal) protects abusive and incompetent adults from any accountability. Yet, instead of fixing these laws, most of the Sacramento power structure yawned and waited for the outrage to dissipate rather than confront their supporters in the statewide teachers unions. As a result, we have Miramonte.

Defenders of the current system like to argue that Miramonte is an isolated situation. But those who have been in school systems know that this is far from the truth. Recently, I talked with an attorney who had represented districts in dismissal cases. He shared story after story of high-cost cases to remove teachers who had either physically or sexually abused students – including male teachers who had raped impressionable female students and called their actions “relationships.” In these cases, the districts had been willing to spend millions to use the dismissal process with no guarantee of success.

I shared with him a story about a health-class teacher who was physically aggressive and sexually forward toward students. Despite student and parent complaints, nothing happened. The standard advice from our attorneys to school leaders was, “document the incidents and create an improvement plan.” For experienced school administrators who had already tried these steps, this advice was laughable. Finally, I received a report of a new problem. A female student complained that he had taught her class wearing loose shorts and no underwear so that his privates were clearly visible. Based on this complaint, our lawyers agreed to “counsel him out.”

Now, when a system has become so degraded that the threshold for “counseling out” of the profession is not job performance, but the exposure of one’s privates to a classroom of teenagers, there is clearly a need for change. This situation, Miramonte, and the earlier cases documented by the L.A. Times should raise troubling questions for those lawmakers protecting the current system. How many more teachers with similar histories have been “counseled out” and ended up in other schools? How many have had their records expunged and continued to teach? How many have been transferred or made their way to high-need schools in poor and immigrant communities where the parents may be less aware and more trusting?

Similar questions have been raised in other abuse scandals in powerful institutions such as the Catholic Church and Penn State. Like those cases, defenders of the current system talk about the importance of due process and assail anyone recommending reform for “attacking the profession.” In this instance, the accusation will be that critics are “bashing teachers.” In any context, these arguments lack credibility.

Not only is the existing system bad for students and communities, it is fundamentally bad for the teaching profession. First, the millions of dollars spent trying to remove a few bad apples and training administrators on the ten-step dismissal process could and should be spent on instructional improvement. Second, the predictable futility of the ten-step process undermines the credibility of the evaluation system overall. Most importantly, given the likelihood of similar cases coming to light, lawmakers should be making every effort to reform the system to prevent future collateral damage to the profession.

Senate Bill 1530 by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla would do a great deal to fix this situation by modifying the existing dismissal process for teachers accused of serious misconduct including sex, violence, or drugs. (A broader bill by Republican Sen. Bob Huff that would have encompassed a wider array of misconduct and abuse accusations failed to get out of committee.) SB 1530 has the support of children’s advocates, school districts including LAUSD, and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office. Predictably, it is opposed by both statewide teachers unions. Sadly, it has the silence of many of their key allies, including our most powerful education leaders: Governor Jerry Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and Speaker of the Assembly John Perez.

Now that the bill has moved out of the Senate and into the Assembly, its opponents will work hard to defeat it. They will lobby their longtime allies and the chairs of important committees. They will work to derail the bill with the aid of longtime legislative staffers who have always prioritized their friends in the CTA over any other interest. And if all else fails, they will take their case to the governor.

For the average citizen, taxpayer, and voter, it must boggle the mind that Sacramento would even be debating this; that this situation wouldn’t have been fixed years ago; and that our most powerful elected leaders won’t commit to fixing it now. Now many of these same leaders and other legislators will be stumping around the state asking the citizens of California to trust them to spend their money, fix the budget crisis, and solve a host of other problems. Of course, the average citizen might ask in return, If we can’t trust you to protect our children from adults involved in sex, violence, and drugs in our schools, how can we trust you on anything at all?

Arun Ramanathan is executive director of The Education Trust–West, a statewide education advocacy organization. He has served as a district administrator, research director, teacher, paraprofessional, and VISTA volunteer in California, New England, and Appalachia. He has a doctorate in educational administration and policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His wife is a teacher and reading http://americansleepandbreathingacademy.com/cost/ specialist and they have a child in preschool and another in a Spanish immersion elementary school in Oakland Unified.

Teacher dismissal bill moves on

It will be easier and quicker to fire teachers in the most egregious misconduct cases, under a bill that the Senate passed Tuesday 33-4.

SB 1530, a response to a series of shocking abuse cases in Los Angeles Unified, would allow districts to suspend with pay teachers accused of sex, violence, or drug charges involving children and then speed up the process leading to a dismissal. A formal appeals process before the three-member Commission on Professional Competence would be replaced by an administrative law judge who’d issue a strictly advisory opinion to the local school board, which would have the final say.

The bill, authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat from Los Angeles, will lead to a significant change in the legal process for a narrow range of misconduct cases. It will also allow districts to file dismissal charges during the summer – a quirk in the law favoring teachers – and will allow evidence more than four years old to be considered in dismissal cases. (Clarification: The bill applies not just to teachers but to all certificated personnel, including administrators.)

Had the bill already been a law, Los Angeles Unified could have handled Mark Berndt, 61, differently. He’s the teacher at Miramonte Elementary who’s been charged with 23 counts of lewd acts against children ages 7 to 10. Rather than go through an expensive and time-consuming appeals process, the district paid Berndt $40,000, including legal fees, to get him to drop the appeal of his firing.

The district had investigated complaints about Berndt dating back two decades but failed to substantiate them. Information about the complaints wasn’t in his file, because a clause in the district’s contract with United Teachers Los Angeles required that misconduct allegations that did not lead to action be expunged from a teacher’s file after four years.

In passing Padilla’s bill, the Senate beat back amendments proposed by Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) that would have extended the provisions in Padilla’s bill to a broader range of misconduct cases. Huff pointed to  cases involving teachers who locked a student in a closet and made ethnic slurs and fun of a handicapped child, which, he told senators, would not have been covered by the Padilla bill. Huff accused Democrats who closed ranks behind Padilla’s bill of  choosing “to support union representatives at the expense of our children and the honorable teachers serving them.”

Earlier this month, the Senate Education Committee defeated Huff’s own bill, SB 1059, on teacher dismissal, which included the amendments that he introduced on Tuesday, as well as shortened the appeals process and gave school boards the final say for dismissing teachers for unsatisfactory performance – a sweeping change. Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy and a representative of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa testified for the bill, saying the current dismissal process can take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The California Teachers Assn. and the California Federation of Teachers had opposed both bills, saying they eroded due process protections against false and unproven accusations.

Padilla said that teachers will retain the right to a hearing with witnesses and the right to appeal a decision to Superior Court.

Full-scale assault on dismissal laws

A nonprofit founded by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur has filed a sweeping, high-stakes lawsuit challenging state teacher protection laws. A victory would overturn a tenure, dismissal, and layoff system that critics blame for the hiring and retention of ineffective teachers. A loss in court could produce bad case law, impeding more targeted efforts to achieve some of the same goals.

Students Matter is the creation of David Welch, co-founder of Infinera, a manufacturer of optical telecommunications systems in Sunnyvale. The new nonprofit filed its lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday on behalf of eight students who attend four school districts. A spokesperson for the organization told the Los Angeles Times that Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and a few other individuals are underwriting the lawsuit. They have hired two top-gun attorneys to lead the case: Ted Boutrous, a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of  Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and Ted Olsen, former solicitor general for President George W. Bush.

The lawsuit asserts that five “outdated statutes” prevent administrators from making employment decisions in students’ interest. The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status. Once granted tenure, they gain due-process rights that make it expensive and difficult to fire them even if they’re “grossly ineffective.” And then, when an economic downturn comes – witness the last four years – a Last In/First Out (LIFO) requirement leads to layoffs based strictly on seniority, not competency.

The protection of ineffective teachers “creates arbitrary and unjustifiable inequality among students,” especially low-income children in low-performing schools, where less experienced teachers are hired and inept veteran teachers are shunted off, under a familiar “dance of the lemons” since they cant be fired. Because education is a “fundamental interest” under the state Constitution, the five statutes that “dictate this unequal, arbitrary result violate the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution” and should be overturned.  The lawsuit doesn’t prescribe a solution.

Incremental versus global approach

Students Matter’s wholesale assault on the laws contrasts with fact-specific, narrowly tailored lawsuits brought by attorneys for the ACLU of Southern California and Public Counsel Law Center. Two years ago, they won a landmark victory in Reed v. the State of California when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Highberger found that the heavy churn of teachers due to LIFO at three Los Angeles Unified middle schools violated students’ right to an equal educational opportunity. That decision led to a settlement between the district, the mayor’s office, and the attorneys that has protected the staffs of 45 low-performing schools from layoffs for the past three years. The strength of that case lay in its ability to tie specific harm to students to the layoff law, which explicitly permits exceptions to seniority layoffs to protect students’ fundamental constitutional rights. LAUSD had not exercised that exception. (United Teachers Los Angeles has appealed; arguments will be heard June 28.)

Earlier this year, the Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice brought suit against Los Angeles Unified over the pro forma way it conducts teacher evaluations. But here, the suit isn’t seeking to overturn the Stull Act, which defines how evaluations are done; it says that the district (along with nearly every other one) has chosen to ignore the law’s requirement that student performance be included in teacher evaluations.

Screen Shot 2012-05-17 at 12.09.04 AMThere’s no shortage of critics of the tenure, dismissal, and layoff laws, which teachers unions have lobbied hard to preserve. California is one of few states that have not lengthened the probationary period for teachers. More than two dozen states have strengthened their evaluation systems in the past several years. California’s dismissal law, with its 10-step process laden with due process, can cost districts hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a teacher on the grounds of unsatisfactory performance, which is why districts often work around it by paying teachers to retire or pushing them from one school to another.

Persuading a judge that the practical problems and the effects of the laws rise to the level of a constitutional violation is another matter. (In an analogous case, California is among the nation’s bottom spenders on K-12 education; it has tough standards and a challenging student population. But attorneys last year failed to convince a Superior Court judge in Robles-Wong v. California and Campaign for Quality Education v. California that adequate education funding is a constitutional right.)

Tough burden of proof

The tenure law may be particularly challenging. As the suit points out, something like 98 percent of probationary teachers have gotten tenure. The two-year probationary period (actually 18 months, since teachers must be notified by March of their second year) is not long enough. Too often evaluations have been slapdash. But the law itself doesn’t require a district even to cite a cause in denying tenure; the power of dismissal lies with the employer.

Students named in the lawsuit are from Los Angles Unified, Pasadena Unified, Sequoia Union High School District, and Alum Rock Union Elementary District, although only Los Angeles Unified and Alum Rock, which serves 11,000 students in San Jose, are specifically cited as defendants, along with  Gov. Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the State Board of Education, the state, and the State Department of Education.

The only specific reference to Alum Rock was in the identification of plaintiff Daniella Martinez, 10, whom the lawsuit says chose to transfer to a public charter school because “of the substantial risk that she would be assigned to a grossly ineffective teacher who impedes her equal access to the opportunity to receive a meaningful education.” The initial filing doesn’t cite evidence of  specific teachers who negatively affected Daniella or the other seven defendants. It refers to studies by such groups as the National Council On Teacher Quality, which issued a blunt assessment of the tenure and dismissal practices of Los Angeles Unified, and on research by Hoover Institution author Eric Hanushek, who concludes that just by dismissing 6 to 10 percent of weakest teachers, students’ academic achievement and long-term earnings as adults would increase significantly.

Los Angeles, as the state’s largest district, may have been named as a defendant because its superintendent, John Deasy, has been outspoken about the need to change labor laws. United Teachers Los Angeles has also  sued over a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that Deasy has put in place.

Deasy would appear to be a friendly witness for the plaintiffs. In a statement, he said he supports lengthening the probationary period, quickening the dismissal process, and reforming the state’s layoff law. “To my dismay, we have lost thousands of our best and hardest-working classroom instructors through the last hired, first fired rule. When forced to reduce our teaching staff through budget cuts, we are compelled through state law and union rules to base these difficult decisions primarily on seniority,” Deasy said.

But when questioned, Deasy will be pressed to acknowledge that it may not be the laws but the implementation that counts. Since joining the district, first as deputy superintendent, then superintendent, Deasy has pushed administrators to apply more scrutiny in granting tenure and more perseverance in dismissing bad teachers. Last year the district terminated 853 teachers. Furthermore, the number of probationary teachers denied tenure rose significantly last year: from 89 in 2009-10 (10 percent of those eligible) to 120 teachers in their first year and 30 in their second year. Other superintendents would agree that well-trained, persistent principals can document the case for teacher dismissals, notwithstanding cumbersome, excessively burdensome requirements.

Faster firings in ‘egregious’ cases

Kathy Baron provided reporting from Sacramento for this post.

The Senate Education Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to make it quicker and cheaper to suspend and fire teachers facing a narrow range of “egregious” misconduct charges that include sex, drugs, and violence. In doing so, they disregarded calls from the mayor of Los Angeles and superintendents of Fresno and Los Angeles Unified to go further, by also making it easier to dismiss incompetent teachers.

“It matters that this state put a stake in the ground” on the issue, said Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy, in supporting SB 1059, sponsored by Senate minority leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, giving school boards the final say over all dismissals. Deasy and Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson called for eliminating the Commission on Professional Competence – a three-member appeals board that contains two teachers – which they said adds an expensive and unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle to firing teachers who behave badly and perform poorly. The Commission would be replaced with an administrative law judge, giving only advisory opinions to the local school board.

But Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), who chairs the Education Committee, said it was “premature” to change the piece of the dismissal law dealing with unsatisfactory performance, because the Legislature has yet to create a teacher evaluation bill that defines satisfactory performance, with support systems to help teachers meet that standard.

Instead, Lowenthal and other members backed a more restrictive bill, SB 1530, by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles. It too would replace the appeals board with an administrative judge, but only in those cases involving sexual misconduct, drugs, and violence by teachers against children. (Huff, in a comparison of the two bills, claims that Padilla’s would prevent dealing expeditiously with some recent incidents of abuse: using racial epithets, locking children in a closet and taping a child’s mouth shut for talking too much).

Padilla’s and Huff’s bills were partly a response to community outrage following criminal charges of sexual abuse against students by three former teachers at Miramonte Elementary in Los Angeles Unified. In two of the cases, the district failed to document and follow up on earlier investigations of suspected illegal acts.

Padilla’s bill would make it easier to suspend a teacher facing “serious and egregious” charges without pay; it would remove the ban in current law against filing dismissal charges during the summer, and it would remove the current prohibition on using evidence of similar violations that’s more than four years old against a teacher. In the Miramonte case of the worst alleged molester, the district paid Mark Berndt $40,000, including legal fees, to get him to drop the appeal of his firing. Berndt is facing 23 counts of lewd acts against children ages 7 to 10.

Saying that the average teacher dismissal case (not just for alleged misconduct) costs Los Angeles Unified $300,000, Deasy called Padilla’s bill “about-time legislation” to enable the district to deal quickly with teachers “who violate sacred trust.”

Los Angeles Unified board member Nury Martinez said the bill would fix an “antiquated” part of the education code that “ties our hands when we need to reassure parents with decisive action.”

“This is about extreme cases where a trusted employee has engaged in unspeakable behavior involving a child and we have to act,” she said.

The California Teachers Association and other unions, however, denied that any changes in law were needed, called both the Huff and Padilla bills assaults on teachers’ rights and little more than grandstanding.

“There are already very clear, very strict guidelines in the education code that give districts immediate authority to protect students and ensure that teachers who engage in that kind of serious sexual misconduct or immoral conduct are immediately removed from the classroom,” said CTA lobbyist Patricia Rucker.

But the Stull Act, which Gov. Ronald Reagan signed in 1971, also protects teachers with due process rights that should not be taken lightly, she said. What’s more, Rucker said the Padilla bill could backfire. Before the Stull Act created an objective commission, peer reviews would sustain slightly more than one third of dismissal decisions by school boards, she said. Since then, with the weight of the commission behind dismissals, Superior Courts uphold seven out of nine firings, she said.

Hanson and Deasy, however, indicated that those statistics are misleading, because most cases involving misconduct charges fall by the wayside – and not for lack of merit. Deasy said that since 2003, 667 cases involving charges of serious misconduct were brought forward  in California; of those only 129 went to a hearing, with 82 resulting in dismissal.   “This does not pass a reasonable smell test.”

Assault on due process

Ken Tray, political director of United Educators of San Francisco and a spokesman for the California Federation of Teachers, called SB 1530 “an attack on educators of California.”

“Sometimes politicians have to stand up for what is truthful, what is right, and what is good. Teachers are under attack,” Tray said.  “And one of the ways to defend the people, the over overwhelming number of my colleagues who are the most highly moral and conscientious of California’s public servants is to defend their due process, so that justice is served.”

Padilla disputed that  the bill would deny teachers due process. They could still request a hearing by an independent arbiter and present their own defense with an attorney and witnesses and the right of disclosure. It would not make teachers “at-will employees,” as the unions claimed. Teachers would retain their right to appeal decisions in Superior Court.

The bill is needed, he said, because appeals can be lengthy and onerous.

Hours after the Senate Education Committee acted, members of the Assembly Education Committee were even less included to change the current law. They stripped a parallel version of the Huff bill, AB 2028, sponsored Republican Steve Knight of the Antelope Valley, of all but two provisions. As amended,  it would remove the four-year limitation for using evidence of prior allegations, and it allow the dismissal process to begin during summer.

That didn’t discourage Knight from proclaiming victory in a press release. “Parents and students across the state are cheering today’s bipartisan vote to enact these important reforms to protect our kids from classroom predators,” he said.  “This is just the first of many steps that must be taken to enact these much-needed reforms and prevent a Miramonte-like tragedy from ever happening again.”

CTA opposition stalls bills

Amid concerted opposition from the California Teachers Association, the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday delayed acting on two bills that would make it easier and quicker to dismiss teachers for misconduct.

Both SB 1530 and SB 1059, along with an identical bill, AB 2028, introduced in the Assembly, are in response to criminal charges of sexual abuse against students by three former teachers at Miramonte Elementary in Los Angeles Unified. In two of the cases, the district failed to document and follow up on earlier investigations of suspected illegal acts.

SB 1530, sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat from Los Angeles, would give school boards the final say over firing teachers facing  sexual, drug, and other serious misconduct charges. A current three-person appeals board would be replaced by an administrative judge who’d be issuing only advisory opinions. The bill also would give districts the option of suspending a teacher suspected of serious misconduct without pay, and would eliminate the 45-day notice to teachers facing disciplinary action. The provisions closely parallel recommendations of the Los Angeles Unified School Board.

SB 1059, by Republican Senate Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, would also quicken the firing process and would go further to also give school boards the final say over firing for unsatisfactory performance as well as misconduct. It, like Padilla’s bill, would remove a 4-year statute of limitations on keeping misconduct investigations in a teacher’s file.

But in an Action Alert on its website, urging CTA members to contact Education Committee members, the CTA condemned what it called “Legislation by Headline” by “apologists for the Los Angeles Unified School District management’s failure to follow existing law to protect students from abuse.”

CTA criticized the bills for “short cuts” on due process rights of teachers. It said that since the Education Code already gives districts discretion in defining unprofessional misconduct, “teachers could immediately be suspended without pay for excessive tardiness or yelling at a student.”

CTA has contacted Huff and Padilla, but neither has received any proposed amendments yet. Padilla said he would consider changes to the bill, but his bottom line is clear: School boards should be able to immediately remove teachers from the classroom once there is sufficient evidence to warrant dismissal, and, as elected officials, school boards “should be empowered with the final decisions.”

Losing experience in teacher layoffs

California school districts should not be bound by seniority when budget cuts force them to lay off teachers, according to far-reaching report released yesterday by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

A Review of the Teacher Layoff Process in California also recommends changing the deadline for notifying teachers they may be laid off from March 15 to June 1, eliminating the teachers’ right to a formal hearing and giving more authority to local districts and bargaining units to determine the layoff process.

The LAO based its recommendations on responses to a survey from 230 out of about 950 school districts, although the Analyst’s Office said those responses included eight of the state’s ten largest districts.

Nearly three-quarters of layoff notices are rescinded. (Source: CA Legislative Analyst). Click to enlarge.

Nearly three-quarters of layoff notices are rescinded. (Source: CA Legislative Analyst). Click to enlarge.

One the main concerns was the huge number of “overnotifications,” or sending pink slips to far more teachers than necessary. According to the LAO, for every ten teachers given preliminary layoff notices last March, about 75 percent of them ended up keeping their jobs.

The problem lies in the timeline, which forces school districts to make budgetary decisions before the governor releases the May Revise, which contains the most current information on projected state revenues. To be on the safe side, districts issue layoff notices based on the worst-case scenario.

The report notes that lowering the number of initial layoff notices “would reduce the time and cost invested in conducting the layoff process, result in fewer teachers unnecessarily concerned about losing their job, and minimize the loss of morale in the school communities affected by layoff notices.”

Union leaders criticized that logic as overly simplistic. Shannon Brown, California’s 2011 Teacher of the Year and president of the San Juan Teachers Association, said moving the deadline for layoff notices may make sense from a fiscal perspective, but would have devastating consequences for laid-off teachers, giving them just a few weeks to find a new job.  That’s what contributes to low teacher morale, said Brown.  That and  the entire crisis in education funding in California that’s led to increasing class sizes, dwindling resources, teacher bashing, and the loss of some 32,000 teaching positions in the last four years. “The layoff notices only add insult to injury,” she said.

The high price of layoffs

It costs districts about $700 for each teacher who’s pink-slipped in the spring. Sacramento City Unified School District, which sent notices to more than 460 teachers last week, estimates the cost at $670 per teacher. That’s $308,000 for a district that’s been cut by $90 million over the past three years. Statewide, California school districts spent about $14 million last year in

Each pink-slipped teacher costs the district about $700.  (Source: CA Legislative Analyst) Click to enlarge.

Each pink-slipped teacher costs the district about $700. (Source: CA Legislative Analyst) Click to enlarge.

administrative and legal expenses, plus the costs of postage and paying for substitutes for teachers who challenged their notices before an administrative law judge.

Typically teachers will ask for a hearing if they believe the district made a mistake in their hiring date or the type of credential they hold; both factors that count when determining who gets laid off. But the LAO concluded that the hearings do not “add substantial value” to the process, and recommended that they be eliminated and replaced with a less formal review process.

San Juan’s Brown countered that the hearings in her district uncover mistakes nearly every year that result in people getting their jobs back. “If hearings were not held,” said Brown, “there would be people wrongfully terminated.”

Asked about the report at the Capitol yesterday morning, State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said although he hadn’t had a chance to review it detail, he sympathized with the financial dilemma facing school districts and noted that unless the Governor’s ballot initiative to raise taxes passes in November, the fiscal crisis will become even more severe.  At that point, some of the LAO’s recommendations will have to be on the table.  “We need to consider an array of options moving forward,” said Steinberg.

That worries the California Teachers Association.  Spokesman Mike Myslinski said the LAO’s plan is a misguided effort that fails to address the underlying problem of the state’s inability to balance the budget.  “The bottom line,” said Myslinski, “is that the state really is in extraordinary times now, and we want lawmakers to be cautious of using these current dire circumstances to make permanent policy decisions that impact student learning.”

Layoff notices reach 20,000

Cynthia Dalmacio has a mnemonic device to keep track of how long she’s been teaching in Brisbane Elementary School District; one pink slip for each of her four years.  The latest one came yesterday, the state deadline for notifying teachers that they may not have a job in the next school year.

Brisbane teacher Cynthia Dalmacio received her fourth layoff notice in as many years. (photo by Mike Myslinski). Click to enlarge.

Brisbane teacher Cynthia Dalmacio received her fourth layoff notice in as many years. (photo by Mike Myslinski). Click to enlarge.

The small hillside city of just over 4,000 residents, overlooking San Francisco Bay, has three schools with 550 students and 30 teachers.  The district sent out eight layoff notices this week.  Previous cuts left one principal for the two elementary schools, and one superintendent for Brisbane and neighboring Bayshore Elementary School District.

“I spend the last few months of each school year in a deep depression because teaching isn’t just a job for me, it’s who I am,” Dalmacio told reporters and a handful of teachers and parents at a news conference organized by the California Teachers Association (CTA).

As of Thursday afternoon, the CTA had heard from more than 200 local unions – including the largest districts in the state – and reported that about 20,000 California teachers were facing the same uncertain future as Dalmacio.

The ten districts issuing the most layoff notices, according to the CTA, are:

  • Los Angeles Unified – about 9,500
  • San Diego Unified – more than 1,600
  • San Juan Unified – 458
  • Capistrano Unified – 392
  • Sacramento City Unified – 389
  • Moreno Valley Unified – 332
  • Long Beach Unified – 309
  • San Bernardino City – 251
  • San Francisco Unified – 210
  • Sweetwater High School District – 209

Not counted in these numbers are first- and second-year teachers who, because they’re not tenured, can be laid off without notice. That number could reach into the thousands, but it’s hard to know, because the state doesn’t keep track of it.

Skipping Seniority

This year, however, the trend is shifting and pink slips are reaching teachers way up the seniority ladder.  One Brisbane teacher who received a pink slip has been there for eight years. San Juan Unified in Sacramento sent notices to some teachers with eleven years in the district.

“Teachers with less than three years were gone the first year (of recent layoffs),” explained Ron Bennett, president and CEO of the consulting firm School Services of California. “As districts have had to ratchet down, they’ve had to go up in seniority.”

Seniority is also being sidestepped in some cases, as more districts turn to provisions of the State Education Code to prevent high turnover rates at academically fragile schools. It started on a large scale in Los Angeles Unified School District two years ago. A lawsuit, filed on behalf of students at three low-performing schools serving mostly students of color, argued that they were being denied an equal education as a result of instability caused by massive layoffs.

In big urban districts, “almost every junior teacher will be assigned to a low-performing inner city school, and as they gain seniority they move out to suburban schools,” said School Services’ Bennett. “In some low-performing schools every single teacher was getting a layoff notice and in higher-performing schools there were no layoffs.”

Since the settlement in Los Angeles Unified, several other large urban districts have used the exemptions in the Ed Code to protect some schools from disproportionate layoffs, including Long Beach, San Francisco – where the union is fighting the move – and Sacramento City Unified.  Last year, an administrative law judge allowed the district to protect jobs at nine schools under the Ed Code exemption for teachers who have undergone special training to improve academic achievement and use different teaching methodologies.

CTA Vice President Eric Heins releasing layoff numbers at news conference in Brisbane. (Photo by Mike Myslinski) Click to enlarge.

CTA Vice President Eric Heins releasing layoff numbers at news conference in Brisbane. (Photo by Mike Myslinski) Click to enlarge.

CTA Vice President Eric Heins finds the argument unconvincing and suspects it’s a political move by districts to ease out veteran teachers who are active in the union and keep younger teachers who are less involved.  “If we have schools that are so bad that nobody wants to teach there, then it’s not right to put a new teacher there or any students,”  said Heins.

This year is different

For the most part, districts have been able to rescind many of the preliminary layoff notices as the state budget picture became more clear.  Last year, the Governor’s May budget revise suggested (erroneously as it turned out) that revenues would be high enough to prevent further cuts.  But districts still had money left from the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which kept thousands of teachers in the classroom.

This time there’s no federal safety net, and school funding is riding on passage of a tax initiative in November. “This year may be a little bit different just because of the sheer size of the cuts combined with structural issues inside school districts,” said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust—West.  Then he chided the governor and legislators for abdicating their responsibility by focusing solely on the November election.

“The disconnect between the pain at the local level and what they’re doing in Sacramento is fundamental, and is basically what has been happening for the last four years,” said Ramanathan, “Nobody loses their job up there.”

Sacramento City Superintendent Jonathan Raymond was even more blunt in his criticism.  “We have to be honest that education is not a priority in California; if it was how come we let things get like this?” he wondered, citing cuts in everything from smaller class sizes and libraries, to music, art and athletics.

When Raymond first took the job as superintendent in 2009, he said a friend thought he was crazy.  “He said it’s like hitting the beaches of Normandy wearing an orange jumpsuit,” recalled Raymond.  It may have seemed hyperbolic at the time, but not so much today after the state has dropped to 47th in per pupil spending on education; nearly $3,000 below the national average.  “This is our Normandy today.  If we don’t educate our children what kind of society are we going to have?” he asked with exasperation rising in his voice. “For the life of me I don’t understand why these people in Sacramento don’t fix it.”

Building teachers to last

The biggest challenge facing legislators as they pursue rewriting the state’s teacher evaluation law this year is not how to weed out the worst teachers but how to retain the best. The key to the latter won’t be found in rubrics and value-added test scores but in deeper training for novice teachers and more career options for veteran teachers.

A baker’s dozen young and mid-career teachers make an articulate case for the latter in a new report, “Many Ways Up, No Reason To Move Out,” the product of the Bay Area New Millennium Initiative, a project affiliated with the North Carolina-based Center for Teaching Quality (go here to download it). The report serves as a reminder to lawmakers to keep in mind “To what end?” as they consider what elements should comprise a teacher evaluation.

The teachers call for three-year apprenticeships for new teachers and a career ladder that offers accomplished teachers leadership opportunities to entice them to stay in the classroom – instead of quitting the profession, as more than half do by the fifth year of teaching in some districts, or pursuing a job as an administrator, in part to make more money.

“Basically it’s like this:  If you’re competent and ambitious, you have to leave your job. Right now the only way to move up is in administration,” Sherene Judeh, one of the co-authors of the report, said at a conference last month in Sacramento on Teaching Quality and California’s Future (go here for a summary of the conference by David B. Cohen, one of the organizaers).

Judeh, a fifth-year teacher, and co-presenter Anna Martin, a seventh-year middle school teacher, embody the challenges facing teachers and districts that don’t want to lose them. A ninth- and tenth-grade humanities teacher and grade-level leader at Lighthouse Community Charter High School in Oakland, Judeh has had multiple roles already, chairing the algebra readiness committee and working with novice teachers as a mentor. Martin is a hybrid teacher in the Alum Rock Union School District in San Jose, coaching teachers, making student placement and master scheduling decisions, mentoring students, and providing professional development for all staff members.

Under a different career ladder, there would be other opportunities for teacher leaders. Source: "Many Ways Up, No Reason To Move Out." (Click twice to enlarge.)

Under a different career ladder, there would be other opportunities for teacher leaders. Source: "Many Ways Up, No Reason To Move Out." (Click twice to enlarge.)

But most districts lack clearly delineated career paths to become master, mentor, hybrid, or specialization teachers, linked to objective standards and professional development fostering teachers’ aspirations. And they lack pay differentials recognizing those levels of achievement, so that a master teacher can one day earn as much as an administrator.

Judeh and Martin started through Teach for America, which makes their advocacy for a three-year apprenticeship all the more interesting. They had only a five-week summer training course before being placed in high-poverty urban schools, then got their teaching credential while teaching school the first year.

“No first-year medical resident is given a scalpel, an operating room, and multiple surgeries to perform on her first day,” the report says. “No law intern argues a case by himself at his first court appearance. No rookie is the starting pitcher on the first day of his team’s season. Yet we continue to throw our beginning teachers into challenging environments without a support system in place to coach them. And unfortunately, in the end, students are the ones who suffer the most as a result.”

In the first year of a three-year preparation program, the apprentice teacher would observe a mentor teacher, while helping to plan lessons, working with students in small groups and taking courses for a credential. In the second year, the apprentice teacher would teach two classes, with the mentor teacher observing and the apprentice meeting regularly with the cohort of apprentice teachers in the credentialing program. In the third year, the apprentice would teach a full load, with the mentor teacher  observing during several paid release days per month.

The apprenticeship is modeled after urban teacher residency programs in Boston and Chicago. San Francisco Unified and Aspire Public Schools have year-long versions, too, as do a number of teacher preparation programs at several California State University campuses. The teacher candidates bear the full cost of the program.

Carolyn Nelson, dean of the College of Education and Allied Studies at California State University, East Bay, said “a more gradual training model, like a medical residency, would be a wonderful way to go.” The issue would be funding, particularly paying for the equivalent of a full-time teaching salary the second year, with added support the third.

The expectation would be that better trained beginner teachers would feel more supported and confident and be less inclined to leave. Turnover has a big cost: Referring to  a study by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the report cited the cost of recruiting, hiring, and retraining replacement teachers nationally at  $7.34 billion annually, with high-poverty, high-minority districts bearing a disproportionate cost.

The report challenges the status quo – teacher tenure after only two years and a pay scale based on years on the job – that the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers defend. “Effectiveness,” the report says, “will no longer be marked simply by a set number of years in the field. Instead, a clearly delineated career continuum will be linked to objective teaching standards and benchmarks, not the traditional and outmoded ‘steps and columns’ system that still dominates American public education today.”

The recommendations are what may be needed to attract a new generation of teachers looking for more respect and more career opportunities backed by better pay.

Once more around the track of school reforms in Los Angeles Unified

In a new labor agreement that embraces local school autonomy, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy has jumped from one school reform horse to another.

He dismounted the Public School Choice horse, thus ending the era when the school district sought to improve schools through robust competition among district-run school management teams, charters, and other complex operating arrangements. Under what has been called “portfolio” logic, the school district would assemble the best collection of schools it could, putting underperforming ones up for competitive bids while encouraging the ones that were doing well.

The labor agreement now being voted on virtually ends Public School Choice. For the next three years, no charters or external school management organizations can apply, and the district is forbidden to reconstitute a school that is making what the agreement calls but does not define as “reasonable progress.”

Deasy and United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher saddled up a new filly — the daughter of school reforms past — called decentralization. The underlying logic is that diversity in approach to schooling is good, that many different models of instruction are needed, and that teachers and administrators know best how to design schooling and to self-regulate their jobs.

They were right to get off the old horse. It was dead or at least hobbled. The 2009 Public School Choice resolution offered by former board member Yolie Flores was an audacious idea, but political pushback tied its legs from the beginning. Its racing life was short. In the first round of applications, the school board rejected Superintendent Ray Cortines’ recommendations and awarded none of the newly constructed schools to charters. The persistently underperforming schools, which had been ordered to write competitive proposals, largely competed against themselves. Few charter or external organizations sought to run them. Conventional wisdom in the charter world is that taking over existing public schools is too fraught with pain and difficulty to be worth the effort; better to start anew.

However, the new decentralization horse does not have a good track record. LAUSD rode this horse hard during the 1990s, and both Deasy and Fletcher could learn from that trial.

The 1990s decentralization horse didn’t get fed enough. Schools that joined the LEARN project were promised budgetary flexibility, which largely never appeared, and added funding, which dried up after a few years.

There may be no food at all for the new decentralization mount. While the labor agreement promises formative assistance for struggling schools and help for planning newly decentralized ones, the state budget shortfall, with more in store next week, may truly empty the feedbag.

The 1990s decentralization horse often didn’t know where the finish line was. LEARN training focused more on adult process skills than hard-core analytics about student achievement. There was no agreement about how to measure the outcomes the schools wanted, and for most of the period California lacked statewide measurements.

The same ambiguity applies now. Will the decentralized schools be judged only by the state’s Academic Performance Index? Will teachers be evaluated by how much they contributed to test score increases? Teachers in general and UTLA in particular loathe so-called “value added” measurements, but they have not proposed an alternative. The expectations for decentralized schools, the means of evaluating them, and the consequences are all up for grabs. Without a finish line, the new school reform horse is as likely to spend its time chewing the infield grass as galloping on the track.

The 1990s school reform horse had inconsistent trainers. Teachers and principals attended sometimes extensive workshops and residencies. (Palm Springs in July. Bring gloves; your steering wheel will be too hot to touch.) They learned the process rudiments of what was called a professional learning community. But these schools were isolated within the larger LAUSD and UTLA organizations. The idea of teacher leadership was rejected by the administrative establishment as improper and by union activists as not being tough minded enough.

The 1990s school reform horse had a short season at the track. LEARN was approved by the school board in 1993 and got under way the following year. By 1999, the race was over. External supporters grew frustrated with LAUSD, and they moved on to foster charter school development, particularly those now called the Alliance Schools. Opposition in the district, school board, and union increased. Victory was declared, but the season ended.

Fletcher and Deasy may have saddled up a better horse. Using the union contract as a reform document gives reform a stable home. Contracts last longer than superintendencies or a union president’s term, and they are good at patterning behavior. Still, neither union nor district could resist the temptation to mire their new ideas on a slow muddy track of committee approvals, school votes, plan documents, and more approvals. It may never get to the starting gate.

I don’t know whether this horse will run, but I’m putting down my bet. See you at the $2 window.

Charles Taylor Kerchner is Research Professor in the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University, and a specialist in educational organizations, educational policy, and teachers unions. In 2008, he and his colleagues completed a four-year study of education reform of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The results of that research can be found in The Transformation of Great American School Districts and in Learning from L.A.: Institutional Change in American Public Education, published by Harvard Education Press.