Thursday, December 13, 2012
In the wake of a state audit that faults the lengthy dismissal process for abusive teachers, state Sen. Alex Padilla reintroduced a bill Monday that would make it easier to fire educators for serious misconduct.
Senate Bill 10 would give school boards the final say over firing teachers accused of sexual, drug and other serious offenses. The legislation was still being finalized late Monday, but it is expected to mirror SB 1530, a Padilla bill from the last session that died in the Assembly Education Committee amid fierce lobbying by the state teachers union.
Padilla, D-Pacoima, said he hopes to reach a consensus this time with the California Teachers Association and get SB 10 passed and signed into law.
"My goal is now, and has always been, to ensure essential due-process rights while allowing for timely resolution of cases that involve sex abuse, violence or drug offenses involving children," he said in a statement.
Edgar Zazueta, Los Angeles Unified's lobbyist, said the new makeup of the Legislature - 39 new lawmakers were sworn in on Monday - has provided a "renewed sense of optimism" for supporters of the Padilla bill.
Padilla first tackled the issue of teacher dismissals following the sex-abuse scandal at Los Angeles Unified's Miramonte Elementary School.
Teacher Mark Berndt received a $40,000 settlement to drop the appeal of his firing after he was accused of molesting 23 of his students. The Berndt case was among several cited in a state audit released last week, which said that California's long and costly dismissal process makes it more likely that districts will pay a problem teacher to retire.
Auditors reviewed 61 settlements with LAUSD teachers - including 47 involving misconduct with a student - and found that more than $2 million in payouts had been made.
Currently, educators fired by their school board can appeal to a three-member board composed of two teachers and an administrative law judge - a process that can take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Padilla wants the school board to have the final say on dismissals of teachers accused of misconduct.
The CTA did not return a call for comment on Monday.
But in an "action alert" posted in opposition to SB 1530, the union said the proposed legislation would undermine an educator's ability to get a fair hearing.
Padilla's effort again has the backing of the Los Angeles Unified school board, which previously recommended changes in the dismissal process and is reaffirming its support in a resolution being introduced today.
The resolution by board president Monica Garcia and vice president Tamar Galatzan also calls on Superintendent John Deasy to follow through on auditors' recommendations to improve the district's handling of problem teachers.
The audit found lengthy and unexplained delays in investigations and discipline, and lapses in notifying the state credentialing commission of nearly 150 cases of suspected misconduct.
"The resolution is a combination of the results of the audit and the reintroduction of the Padilla bill," said Galatzan, who represents the west San Fernando Valley. "Everyone knows that the processes we have for addressing allegations of teacher misconduct can be improved."
Officials said Monday that 299 teachers are now being "housed" at district offices after being accused of misconduct. Each case takes an average of six months to investigate and resolve, with teachers collecting an average of $6,000 a month in salary.