Vergara trial: finally, evidence of a student hurt by state laws
Mark Harris | February 3, 2014
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It took six days of testimony to finally put a human face on the legal issues in Vergara vs. California, and it wasn’t Beatriz Vergara or any of the other eight plaintiffs challenging the state and its biggest teacher unions.
Rather it was Joey Raymond, the son of the former Sacramento City Unified superintendent, Jonathan Raymond, who took the stand late in the day and told what happened when he and his wife moved to their new city in 2009 and found a school for Joey, who was six years old at the time.
Raymond came to Sacramento after serving as Chief Accounting Officer for a North Carolina school district. He testified that he was thrilled to find an opening in Miss Nim’s first grade class. He said he had visited her class on an earlier trip and found her to be “one of the five best teachers I’ve ever seen.”
But the following spring, Miss Nim received notice that she was going to be laid off due to cutbacks and the state’s mandatory seniority system, know as “Last in, first out,” or LIFO. The former superintendent testified he was devastated — more so, because of the LIFO statute, one of the five that the Vergara plaintiffs are seeking to strike down.
Welling up with emotion, Raymond said, “I think a system that treats its best teachers this way, a system that doesn’t serve children and families in the best way, in my humble opinion, is broken.”
The plaintiffs are contending that the “LIFO” law and others governing teacher dismissal and tenure, conspire to keep ineffective teachers in the classroom, often at the expense of teachers like Miss Nim. The defendants — the California Teachers Association (CTA), California Federation Of Teachers (CFT) and the state — are arguing that school districts have enough latitude within the laws to navigate around any harm on students from ineffective teachers.
Raymond, who served as superintendent in Sacramento through December, said Joey came to him and asked why Miss Nim had to go. “Because I have to follow the law,” he testified that he told his son. “That didn’t feel too good.”
When questioned whether he was forced to devise alternative options to the dismissal rules to get ineffective teachers out of the classroom, Raymond said yes. One such option, he testified, was placing ineffective teachers in a substitute teacher pool, thereby ensuring these teachers would never be assigned to a regular class of students.
While the tactic was effective in exiting teachers from classrooms, Mr. Raymond told the court it came at a cost of nearly $900,000.
Raymond’s time on the witness stand was a welcome change to the otherwise tedious testimony of Troy Christmas, Director of Labor Relations for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), who concluded two days of testimony by mid-afternoon.
Eileen Goldsmith, a lawyer for the teacher unions, tried to dissect Christmas’ earlier testimony. At times, the cross examination was painstakingly long as she tried chipping away at Christmas’ credibility as an expert on teacher evaluation.
When asked whether he had ever worked as a principal or hired a teacher, Christmas replied no. Goldsmith quickly followed up asking if he considered himself an expert on how to advance student learning. Again, the answer was no.
Trying to rattle the witness, she also questioned Christmas about portions of his earlier testimony, suggesting his estimates on the cost and length of time associated with teacher dismissals was exaggerated. But throughout the day, he held tight to his position, that the laws under challenge result in substantially higher costs for a school district and ineffective teachers still in the classroom.
Previous Posts: The Vergara trial had more about ineffective teachers, but not Vergara; Villaraigosa offers his support for students in Vergara trial In Vergara testimony, Deasy aims at “grossly ineffective” teachers.