California teacher firing bill headed to Gov. Jerry Brown

jwhite@sacbee.comJune 12, 2014 

Against the backdrop of a sweeping ruling declaring California’s teacher dismissal rules unconstitutional, the Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown legislation speeding the teacher firing process.

Years of wrangling and failed attempts preceded Assembly Bill 215, with Brown vetoing last year’s version. In addition to attempting to limit the length of appeals, AB 215 contains a measure hailed as a major breakthrough – a separate, accelerated process for teachers accused of egregious offenses such as molesting children.

Efforts to streamline the teacher firing process have come partly in response to the scandal of a Los Angeles teacher who was paid to resign after pleading no contest to committing lewd acts with children. But they also reflect a consensus that, in California, it can be extraordinarily difficult, expensive and time-consuming to fire a teacher.

“We all agree that the current dismissal appeal process for certificated employees takes too long and costs too much money,” said Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, AB 215’s author. “The only ones who benefit from the current process are the attorneys.”

In a Tuesday ruling invalidating several of California’s teacher employment rules, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu pressed a similar point. He wrote that the dismissal process is “so complex, so time-consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.”

Buchanan began targeting the teacher firing process before the lawsuit, Vergara v. California, and Treu’s ruling. Neither lawmaker who spoke in support of AB 215 invoked the case. But AB 215 could mark one facet of a broader legislative response to the decision.

In the past, the California Teacher Association opposed a fast track for firing teachers accused of molesting children, saying it would deprive teachers of due process. The union reversed that stance this year. In backing the legislation, the CTA allied itself with an organization, EdVoice, that had sponsored a ballot measure asking voters to approve the accelerated process for teachers who abuse children or sell them drugs.

The CTA’s embrace of the two-tiered appeals system drew headlines. But the bill also affects teachers fired for non-egregious causes like being ineffectual in the classroom or consistently late for work. Those cases would have to conclude within seven months – currently there is no time limit – and the bill would tighten rules around gathering evidence and appealing suspensions.

“It’s a balanced bill that ensures student safety, preserves due process for teachers and preserves wide discretion for school districts to make employment decisions,” said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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