So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

California lawmakers discuss bill to speed teacher dismissal

Protestors march near Miramonte Elementa

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Protestors march near Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.

A bill that would make it easier to dismiss a teacher accused of misconduct will be heard by the California Assembly Education Committee today and is being met by strong opposition from the California Teachers Association.

SB1530, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Pacoima, would give school boards the last word in firing teachers accused of "serious and egregious misconduct" — offenses of sex, drugs and violence against children.

In these instances what was decided by a three-person panel called the Commission on Professional Competence would be an "advisory" decision by an administrative law judge. Evidence more than four years old could be used in the investigation and during proceedings for such misconduct crimes.

The bill is one of three that remains alive after lawmakers responded to a call by the L.A. Unified school board to change state law governing the dismissal process after a spate of sexual misconduct cases at LAUSD schools.

Officials pointed to the case of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct on children, as an example of a case where the appeal process dragged on for months and LAUSD ended up paying him $40,000 to settle the dismissal process and get him out of the classroom.

The Padilla bill has already cleared the California Senate. On Wednesday, L.A. Unified Board President Monica Garcia and board member Nury Martinez plan to testify at the state Assembly Education Committee hearing in support of the bill.

“We all know and appreciate that the vast majority of our children's teachers are caring and responsible professionals," Martinez said in a statement Tuesday. "But when a trusted employee has engaged in unspeakable behavior involving a child, we need the ability to act quickly to protect our students...This limited change to state law is just plain common sense and is the right thing to do.”    

The CTA has strongly opposed such a bill, which it said on its blog would "make radical changes to current law and undermine an accused’s right to a fair hearing." The union criticized the bill for not adding new penalties for administrators or districts that do not follow reporting laws.

Yet Padilla worked with CTA officials to narrow the initial proposed bill so that immediate suspension would only be allowed for "serious and egregious misconduct." And so that teachers would also be given an opportunity to present their written or oral case to the school board before a final determination.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sent a letter of support for SB1530 to the committee chair Democratic state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley of Oak Park.

"If we hope to adequately protect our students and prevent an incident like Miramonte from ever happening again, we must acknowledge that there are barriers at the state level that significantly hinder our local school boards' ability to ensure our students' safety," Villaraigosa wrote.

"Without changes to state law it is likely that more teachers who abuse students will be 'counseled out' and end up in other schools where they can continue to prey on new victims."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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