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Legislation to expedite the process of firing teachers for sex, violence or drug offenses involving children was killed Wednesday by an Assembly committee after sparking strong opposition from the state's largest teachers union.

Senate Bill 1530, by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles, was rejected by the Assembly Education Committee.

The measure was proposed in the wake of a scandal surrounding Mark Berndt, a third-grade teacher at Los Angeles' Miramonte Elementary School who was arrested in January on 23 counts of lewd conduct.

Padilla said the vast majority of teachers "take seriously the sacred trust we put in them." But some, very few, have "engaged in conduct so egregious that it warrants immediate action," he said.

"We have to do right by children and families," said Monica Garcia, president of the Los Angeles Unified School District, in supporting Padilla's bill.

SB 1530 would modify the current process for dismissing teachers -- or administrators -- after they have engaged in sex, violence or drug offenses with children.

Both sides in committee debate Wednesday supported the notion of protecting kids and cracking down on teacher predators, but they disagreed on whether SB 1530 was the proper way to do that.

State law currently allows teachers to appeal their firing by a school board to a three -person panel, consisting of two certificated employees and an administrative law judge. The panel makes the final decision on dismissal.

SB 1530 would change the process, in part, by leaving the final determination with school boards. They would act after receiving a recommendation from an administrative law judge who has heard the case against an accused employee.

Accused employees would have the right to present a defense, to have an attorney and to present witnesses before the administrative law judge.

Padilla's bill also would allow districts to begin the firing process during summer months, would allow evidence older than four years to be considered, and would allow districts to suspend a teacher immediately after investigations of sex, violence or drug allegations involving children.

Supporters of SB 1530 include the California School Boards Association, California Association of Suburban School Districts, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and the Association of California School Administrators.

The California Teachers Association blasted the bill as political grandstanding that would weaken the integrity of the teacher firing process.

CTA objected to eliminating the requirement for a three-person panel to hear dismissal cases. SB 1530 would strip such panels of their two teachers, leaving only an administrative law judge to hear the case against an offender.

Teachers should be involved not only in setting standards for excellence, but also in holding colleagues accountable for unprofessional conduct, said Patricia Rucker, CTA lobbyist.

"The current system is fair and credible," said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. "It takes politics out of the process."


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