It could become easier to fire a teacher in California: the Assembly Education Committee voted 7-0 on Wednesday to approve a bill by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, which would streamline the process for jettisoning incompetent or abusive educators.
The current dismissal process "is too long and takes too much money," Buchanan said at the committee hearing. "When it takes 18 months, two years, to resolve a case or it costs well over $100,000, not only can that money be better spent in the classroom but it's not fair to the district in its ability to move forward, nor is it fair to the employee."
The vote to advance Buchanan's bill, AB 375, comes after last year's abortive attempt to address teacher dismissal. A bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, faltered in part because of opposition from the California Teachers Association, but the powerful teachers union has backed AB 375.
Teachers unions and education reformers have clashed vehemently over the process for dismissing teachers. Critics argue that it is too difficult to fire underperforming educators, while unions want a fair appeals process to guard against firings that could be motivated by vengeful principals or false accusations.
Padilla authored a bill last year to expedite the process for firing teachers, pivoting off of public outcry after a Los Angeles elementary school teacher, Mark Berndt, got a $40,000 payout to resolve his appeal of being fired for allegedly sexually abusing students. Padilla's bill would have required districts to move to dismiss teachers accused of sexual abuse without allotting time for an investigation.
But the bill would have also dissolved an appeals panel composed of two teachers and an administrative law judge, instead leaving the final decision to school boards. The California Teachers Association argued that the bill stripped teachers of a key job protection by putting their cases before the district rather than a panel of their peers, and the legislation failed.
"We felt that was the ultimate kangaroo court," said Dean Vogel, president of the CTA.
Buchanan's bill, AB 375, retains the appeals panel, a change that has helped get the CTA onboard as a supporter. It also limits the entire appeals process to seven months and requires a district to present documents within 30 days of moving to dismiss a teacher, provisions that Vogel said will save time and money.
PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, in 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo