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Mixed Reactions to New Teacher Dismissal Bill

Samantha Oltman | April 5, 2013

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Assemblymember Joan Buchanan

AB 375, a new bill meant to streamline teacher dismissals, could be headed for quick passage after clearing the State Assembly’s Education Committee with a 7 – 0 vote Thursday.

The bill’s chance at passing is undoubtedly aided by the announcement last week that the state’s largest teachers union, the California Teachers Association, was joining forces with Assemblymember Joan Buchanan and Senator Alex Padilla to support AB 375.

But the alliance of Padilla and Buchanan and the quick pace of action in the statehouse have left some observers confused and concerned. Is AB 375 a watered-down teacher dismissal bill? Or have the unions, legislators, and education advocates finally come to a working compromise that will help streamline the teacher dismissal process?

Edgar Zazueta, the director of government relations for LAUSD, praised AB 375 as a “step in the right direction.”

But he also expressed reservations.

“I think we’d argue that there’s more consideration to be done here. We thank [Buchanan] for moving in the right direction, but we think we could push envelope a little further,” Zazueta said.

LAUSD, StudentsFirst, EdVoice, and Democrats for Education Reform have expressed a mix of praise and concern.

To be sure, the CTA, Padilla, and Buchanan are unlikely allies.

The union vehemently opposed both of Padilla’s teacher dismissal bills (SB 10 and last year’s SB 1530), and when SB 1530 was up for vote in the Assembly last year, Buchanan helped kill the bill when she voted against it. Yet Padilla has shelved SB 10 and teamed up with Buchanan to help pass AB 375.

According to CTA spokesperson Frank Wells, the union supports AB 375 because the bill “does the things we wanted.” He cited how Buchanan’s bill leaves the final dismissal decision in the hands of a Commission on Professional Competence made up of two fellow teachers and an administrative law judge.

In SB 10, Padilla planned to limit the commission to having only an advisory role, instead giving the local school board the final decision on whether to fire a teacher. Padilla also wanted to exclude the teachers from the commission, reducing it to a lone judge. It was this plan to limit the commission to an advisory role that “was a major sticking point” for the CTA with SB 10, Wells said.

Reform-minded Gloria Romero, head of Democrats for Education Reform in California, is skeptical the bill will accomplish much. (Read her critical review of the CTA’s involvement with AB 375 in an O.C. Register column here.)

EdVoice and StudentsFirst praised Buchanan for lifting the statute of limitations on evidence that can be used against a teacher during the dismissal process. (Current law prohibits the use of evidence from more than four years ago.)

However, both groups said they are still reviewing the bill and deciding just what they think.

In a letter sent to Buchanan, EdVoice expressed specific concerns that AB 375 won’t effectively improve the dismissal process for teachers who have sexually or physically abused their students.

EdVoice CEO Bill Lucia told LA School Report that he has several issues with the bill. “There’s no question whatsoever that SB 10 was more streamlined than AB 375 in terms of dealing with people who are child predators on the payroll at taxpayers’ expense,” Lucia said.

Lucia’s main concern clashes directly with the CTA’s praise for AB 375: The bill maintains the current law that gives the Commission on Professional Competence the final dismissal decision for teachers accused of “immoral conduct” such as sexual and physical abuse.

“To maintain the same process for someone who can’t teach and for someone who is a child molester is unacceptable,” Lucia said. “That kind of behavior is criminal, not a matter of professional competence.”

Lucia also takes issue with AB 375’s revised timelines, which have been extended longer in some cases than the timelines SB 10 proposed. While SB 10 would have required hearings to begin 60 days after a teacher asked for it, AB 375 allows the hearing to start within six months; and while SB 10 required that the Commission reviewing the case to choose its three members within seven days, AB 375 extended the time to 45 days.

The CTA’s Frank Wells defended the new timelines: “Padilla’s bill may have had a shorter timeline, but it was less fair. We want to streamline process, but we also want to give people adequate time to prepare their cases.”

Both EdVoice and StudentsFirst say they’re in the process of carefully inspecting AB 375 and meeting with stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and community members, to decide whether or not AB 375 has enough force to merit their support. They expect to decide by the end of the month.

To read the full text of AB 375, go here; for SB 10, go here.

Previous posts: Lawmaker Supports Former Opponent’s Teacher Dismissal Bill; Report: Teacher Dismissals Costly, Lengthy; Commentary: Implications of a Bloom Win

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