Cindy Marks: Flawed bill would make it harder to fire bad teachers

10/07/2013 6:41 PM

10/07/2013 8:48 PM

Currently residing on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk is Assembly Bill 375, a deeply flawed piece of legislation authored by Assembly Member Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) on one of the most important issues facing public schools today – the means by which a school district can dismiss a teacher, either for unsatisfactory performance or for conduct that threatens the safety of the children in our schools. AB 375 misses the mark; instead of helping schools, it would give accused teachers a clear advantage. It imposes a time limit, provides opportunities to delay, and limits the ability of school districts to gather evidence and amend charges. I am asking Gov. Brown to veto the measure and, just as he did in working out the Local Control Funding Formula, bring stakeholders together to work out a better solution.

The technical problems with the bill have been detailed by highly skilled school attorneys in testimony before legislative committees and correspondence. I invite anyone interested in the topic to visit our website at www.csba.org for more detail.

I am writing to highlight a few critical flaws. First, I’m unaware of any school board or superintendent who has taken a position in support of the bill. It appears no one who has investigated and removed a teacher believes AB 375 is good for schools. In fact, statewide groups representing school boards, administrators, county superintendents, business officials and school attorneys are universally opposed. The professionals on the front line, trusted to maintain safe school environments, believe the bill will make it harder, not easier or faster, to dismiss teachers who may be a threat to student safety.

The California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association, representatives of teachers accused of misconduct, stands firmly in support.

Second, AB 375 attempts to shorten the dismissal hearing by placing restrictions on a school district’s ability to prove its case. School attorneys could depose just four witnesses, in addition to the accused teacher. That means the district must use evidence gathered from just four witnesses or victims to help prepare its case to prove grounds for dismissal. Furthermore, school districts would be unable to freely amend charges as new evidence is uncovered through testimony.

Restricting evidence puts defense attorneys and accused teachers in a strong position to extract larger settlements. And school districts will be forced to pay it. I can tell you as a school leader, we would never knowingly return someone to the classroom when he or she may be a threat to students. Re-filing charges doesn’t work either. The emotional cost of asking children to relive abuse in testimony will be too great.

Finally, AB 375 fails to fix a major problem with our dismissal process. That is, school boards do not have final authority to dismiss a teacher. A panel made up of two teachers and an administrative law judge makes the final decision. AB 375 leaves the authority and composition of the panel intact (with modest adjustments to reduce the amount of teaching experience required and allow teachers from the same grade span to serve, rather than limiting selection to teachers from the same subject).

School boards are elected by their communities and held accountable for everything that takes place in school, and rightly so. Yet, we lack the authority to dismiss a teacher who is failing our students or mistreating them. AB 375 missed an opportunity to align accountability with authority and give school boards the option to make the final decision when we must dismiss a teacher.

We can do better. At a minimum, we should not make the process worse. Gov. Brown, please veto AB 375 and direct the Legislature to work with the education community to develop a balanced set of reforms, with support from a broader array of stakeholders, that provides a fair, expeditious teacher dismissal process that does not deny school officials the ability to gather and use critical evidence.

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