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Teacher Dismissal Bill Blocked Over Seven-Month Time Limit

Brianna Sacks | July 11, 2013

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Congressional Dist. 10 Debate

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-San Ramon)

After nine months of hearings and amendments, legislation aimed to quicken and streamline teacher dismissal procedures failed to pass in the Senate Education Committee by one vote.

The Chair of the Senate Education Committee Carol Liu (D-Glendale) — the only LA-area lawmaker on the committee — decided not to vote for or against the bill because of district administrators and attorneys’ concerns. Many other lawmakers followed suit.

Liu did grant the bill reconsideration, however, but it now will not be reconsidered until at least January.

Unless the process is changed at the state-level, bill sponsor State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-San Ramon) says LAUSD and other districts will continue to wade through onerous dismissal procedures that can last 18 months or longer.

However,  Edgar Zazueta, the director of government relations for LAUSD, said that while Buchanan’s bill would be a great improvement to the current law there are some serious flaws that could damage the district if the bill passed as is.

The Buchanan legislation has been supported by the teachers union, among others.

Assembly Bill 357 was expected to pass with strong support from teachers’ unions and student advocacy groups.  It would have made it easier for districts to suspend and fire teachers for serious offenses, an especially pertinent issue given the continuous slew of child molestation and teacher misconduct cases that continue to crop up throughout LA Unified.

First reported by EdSource Today, the failure of the Buchanan legislation was a repeat of the failure of similar legislation in 2012.

Last year, Buchanan voted against the legislation, SB 1530, which was championed by Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima).  This year, she developed her own legislation and was joined by Padilla, but was met with similar push back by the state Senate.

What is really holding the bill back, from perspective of LAUSD, is the proposed seven-month time frame for dismissing teachers accused of misdeeds in the classroom.

“This bill says that if the seven months pass without a resolution, a district gets another 30 days,” Zazueta explained. “But ultimately that time period may lapse, and the bill states that the district would have to refile the case. That’s a big concern for us.”

“It doesn’t make sense for us to have to start from scratch, put people back on the stand and do the whole thing over,” he added.

District lawyers warned that Office of Administrative Hearings, where the dismissal cases are heard, has a difficult time putting these on the calendar from the get go, according to Zazueta. To district administrators, a seven month dismissal resolution seems like a long shot.

“What our lawyers told us is that the Office of Administrative Hearings (where the dismissal cases are heard) has a difficult time putting these on the calendar from the get go,” said Zazueta. “Just because we say it will happen in seven months, will it actually happen?”

Buchanan disagrees with this assessment, saying that most dismissal hearings actually take days or a week once they are scheduled at the Office of Administrative Hearings because their deadlines are written into statues, and that forces the OAH to make sure cases are concluded.

“It works,” said Buchanan. “So to say you cannot get it done in seven months’ time, I don’t believe is correct, since these cases are not part of judicial branch.”

United Teachers of Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher said the union will continue to support the bill despite the recent setbacks. The administrators’ union also said they support the bill, though they also have concerns about the hard-set time deadline, among other details.

“Yes the process should be faster, but I think [the bill’s sponsors] tried to make it faster than would be possible,” said AALA President Judith Perez.

Perez said that she was concerned at the speed teachers could be dismissed if the bill passed and explained that putting such a specific length of time could backfire for school districts.

Buchanan acknowledges that’s what prevented the bill from passing.

“The bill stalling really hinged on one law firm who testified and said the process cannot be completed in seven months so cases will get dismissed and end up costing districts more money,” said Buchanan.

Depending on the severity of the charges in a teacher dismissal case, the process can drag on for a year or more, costing districts money they don’t have.

Buchanan says the biggest problem facing schools is actually not the sexual abuse and misconduct cases like Miramonte, but the dismissals for unprofessional conduct and unsatisfactory performance which are less cut-and-dry, harder to prove, “drag on for extended periods of time” and often costs districts hundreds of thousands of dollars.

On this issue, Buchanan and LAUSD agree.

“Sometimes cases last over a year,” said Zazueta. “Some cases have even dragged on for multiple years.”

These delayed dismissal cases can cost LAUSD anywhere from $150,000 – $300,000 for one case, he said. If the district loses a case once it finally gets to trial, Zazueta says the district has to pay the two panelists it finds to sit in for the hearing about $7,000-$9,500.

Under Supt. Deasy’s administration, Zazueta says the district has tried to “be more aggressive to see which employees should be in the classroom,” which can result in more teacher dismissal cases.

With months until the January consideration, Buchanan says she will do whatever it takes to get the bill ready to pass.

“I need to sit down individually with every member of the Senate Committee on Education to make sure they truly understand what the bill really does,” she said. “If we need to amend it we will.”

Previous posts: Mixed Reactions to New Teacher Dismissal Bill; Deasy Wants Stronger Teacher Dismissal Bill; State Teachers Union Rejects Criticism of Teacher Dismissal Bill; Deasy Requests Changes to Teacher Dismissal Bill

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