Lawyers for L.A. Unified, United Teachers Los Angeles, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, and parents filing suit, were sent into the hallway to come up with a timeline for when the district must be in compliance with state law and include student test scores in teacher evaluations.
L.A. Unified must comply with a judge's ruling to include student test scores in teacher evaluations by Dec. 4, a bevy of attorneys representing the district, its unions, and parents agreed in court today.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant made his ruling in Doe vs. Deasy last month and asked the attorneys to agree on a compliance timeline. After multiple meetings and disagreements, Chalfant sent the attorneys into the hallway this afternoon to come to an agreement, or face him imposing one unilaterally.
L.A. Unified attorney Barry Green said the district and its unions agreed on a staggered timeline that included a check-in on progress Sept. 4 and a final "drop dead date where everything has to be in place" by Dec. 4.
"We can't just wave our wand and just implement, because we have the unions" to negotiate with, Green said in court today. "We have a gun to us that says we must do that."
Green said the district built into the proposed timeline the fact that parties may reach an impasse and would then need to go through a mediation and fact-finding process under the state's Public Employment Relations Board. "If it were up to us, it would be in place already," Green told Chalfant.
The suit was filed in November by the Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice on behalf of seven unnamed parents. The core of the brief centers on the 41-year-old “Stull Act,” which requires school districts to “evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to the progress of pupils” on district standards of expected achievement in each subject area at each grade level. The act was broadened in 1999 to require evaluation based on student progress on state standardized tests.
In his ruling, Chalfant left the details of how the district must comply with the "pupil progress requirement" primarily to its discretion. He said details such as the system of measurement, how that plays into a teacher's evaluation and how much it is weighted, may all require collective bargaining.
"You've got to do it, you have to consider pupil progress both based on CSTs [state standardized tests] and whatever assessments you want to rely on for district standards in evaluating teachers," Chalfant said last month. "Now how you go about doing that is a matter of your discretion, how you want to collectively bargain that is a matter to you and your unions."
Parties were generally pleased with the timeline agreed on in court today.
"The keys are that there's going to be time for the bargaining process to run its course in a reasonable and not unecessarily impractical or imposed way...and time for the parties to have meaningful good-faith negotiations," said United Teachers Los Angeles attorney Jesus Quinonez.
Quinonez said in court that the union believed it "very possible and very doable, ultimately" to have the new evaluation system in time for teacher evaluations at the end of the 2012-13 school year.
"The agreement is everybody will make their 'best efforts' to do what is necessary to abide by the judge's decision," said Judith Perez, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles. "I'm happy about aspects of the decision, I'm glad the judge upheld collective bargaining."
Witlin called the outcome a "major victory": "We got committments from UTLA that whatever is agreed to is going to be implemented this school year."
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has closely watched the legal proceedings, publicly praising the judge's ruling last month. As speaker in the state Assembly, Villaraigosa sponsored the amendment that expanded the law to require evaluation based on student progress on state standardized tests. He also filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the suit.
"Anything that keeps the parties' feet to the fire is a victory," said Brian S. Currey, counsel to the mayor, who watched the proceedings in court today.
It is unclear how exactly the new system would be incorporated into the 2012-13 teacher evaluations as most of the discussions regarding the process occur at the start of the school year. L.A. Unified starts early, on Aug. 14, this year.
The proceedings also brought former state Sen. Gloria Romero to court. She helped co-found the Democrats for Education Reform. She was "very discouraged" by the conversation in court and the fact that attorneys had to be sent out into the hall to reach an agreement.
"Oh my God, it's going to take another 30 years to bring them into compliance with the law," Romero said. "It's all about delay...In the last six weeks, they've negotiated three days. That really tells the story. There is no sense of urgency."
Witlin said in court he was frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations and that the district and its unions have only sat down three or four times since the judge's June 12 ruling. But he said he "hoped they will actually come through" as agreed.
EdVoice president Bill Lucia said he was pleased with the decision and that ultimately it meant kids will be "more likely to have effective teachers and school leaders" because of it.