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Defense rests in Vergara after a battle over dismissal stats

Michael Janofsky | March 21, 2014

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Vivian Ekchian Vergara Trial Day 31 3.21.2014

Vivian Ekchian

The defense rested its case today in Vergara v. California after an examination of an LA Unified administrator that was designed to show that the state laws under challenge did not impede the district’s effort to get rid of ineffective teachers.

On Monday, court resumes with the plaintiffs’ opening a short rebuttal phase of the trial, leading to closing arguments next Thursday. Marcellus McRae, a plaintiffs lawyer, told the court that his side intends to call as many as four people to dispute “a number of witnesses” who testified for the defense.

Vivian Ekchian, who served as LA Unified’s chief human resources officer until a recent appointment to chief labor negotiator, was today’s only witness, the last of 28 for the defense. She was called as an adversary witness, in a sense, in an effort to show that the district was not overly burdened by state laws governing teacher dismissals.

The plaintiffs have argued that the dismissal laws lead to long and expensive ordeals for districts as they try to eliminate their worst teachers, thus discouraging them from more aggressive efforts to fire them. Those laws, along with statutes on tenure and seniority, are at the heart of the case, with plaintiffs saying the laws deny equal access to quality education.

The state, as the principle defendant and California’s two biggest teacher unions joining as intervenors, say the laws work well and do not interfere with properly-managed school districts.

The questioning of Ekchian devolved into a battle of numbers and lawyers’ spinning them the best way for presentation in the case.

Jonathan Weissglass, representing the unions, elicited responses that appeared to show LA Unified had only minimal difficulties weeding out ineffective teachers. For example, in response to one question, she said the district sent notices of unsatisfactory performance to only 85 teachers between Jan. 1, 2008 and Aug. 2, 2013, and that 64 of them left before the dismissal process began.

Under questioning by McRae, she said LA Unified had about 350 teachers who had received two “below-standard” evaluations in the 2012-2013 school year and the district would have sought to dismissal all of them “if the dismissal process were more streamlined.”

By the end, her testimony was just another piece of an enormously complex case that could reshape laws governing teachers in the state — or not, depending on how Judge Rolf Treu interprets evidence from 50 witnesses over 31 days of testimony.

“We’re very happy with the evidence that went in,” Jim Finberg, the lead lawyer for the unions, told LA School Report, reflecting on the defense case. “The evidence is quite compelling that the statutes serve very important interests for the benefit of students in California. To strike them down as unconstitutional would be a disservice to them.”

Previous Posts: Vergara witness says streets more than teachers shape academicsA witness in Vergara v California urges seniority over ‘effectiveness’Teachers refute ‘ineffective’ charges by Vergara witnesses.


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