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Not yet an "A" grade, plenty of work remaining -- but no longer at risk of flunking out.

That essentially was the Legislature's Joint Legislative Audit Committee report card Wednesday on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing's response to a blistering state audit which found flaws that could pose risks to children.

State Auditor Elaine Howle, who said following the audit's release in April that the commission was one of the "worst-run" state agencies she ever had investigated, gave a tentative thumbs-up Wednesday to progress made since then.

"I think they have started to take steps in the right direction," Howle said, adding that it is too early to draw firm conclusions but she expects to see "quite a bit of corrective action completed" by next spring.

Of 13 recommendations in the audit, corrective action was pending or had partially been implemented in 12, Howle said. The lone exception involved tracking cases after they have been assigned to investigators.

Howle's audit focused primarily on one aspect of the commission's duties, its responsibility to investigate and take disciplinary action against teachers accused of criminal activity or other wrongdoing.

The state probe found flaws in nearly every aspect of the commission's discipline process, including lapses in launching investigations, updating files, gathering facts, tracking cases and revoking credentials.

The audit also found that in August 2009 there was a three-year backlog of 12,600 arrest or prosecution reports. Commission officials previously have said the backlog was eliminated, however, before the audit's release.

Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, a Bell Gardens Democrat who chairs the legislative audit committee, said Wednesday that he is content with the commission's progress but has crafted legislation to ensure it continues.

Lara said he is teaming with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on Assembly Bill 229, which would require the state auditor to appoint a monitor to evaluate commission practices for two years.

The tab for the monitor has not yet been determined, but it would be paid by the commission, which is self-funded through fees on educators.

Chairwoman Ting Sun noted Wednesday that key administrators are being replaced. Executive Director Dale Janssen and General Counsel Mary Armstrong announced their retirements last month.

An interim executive director was named Tuesday, Beth Graybill, who will serve on "loan" from her current position as principal consultant for the Senate Education Committee.

Sun detailed numerous database, staff training, case processing and hiring procedure changes that are planned or are in various stages of implementation. She said she is committed to correcting every flaw identified by the audit.

"The audit has pointed to problems which should never have been allowed to occur," Sun said, adding that "in the past, commissioners have not engaged in the daily oversight and operations of the agency. This was a mistake."

"I want to assure you," Sun told the committee, "that we take very seriously our responsibility to California's 6 million school children and their parents -- and we apologize for the concerns raised by the Legislature and the public that have resulted from this audit."



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