The board of the Los Angeles Unified School District has passed a resolution to ease restrictions on firing unprofessional teachers, a move long in the making. Passed by a 4-3 vote on June 9, the resolution sets the stage for changes to state law to make such dismissals easier.
In the fall of 2008, board member Marlene Canter advanced a resolution to deal with the problem, but the board took no action. That prompted Canter to seek out state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles), chair of the state Senate Education Committee, for legislative relief.
Romero said existing state law needed only “tweaks,” but she saw little chance to act this year. Canter, however, found an ally in the press.
On May 3 the Los Angeles Times started a series, the first article of which was titled “Firing tenured teachers can be a costly and tortuous task,” which went on to gain widespread attention. Taxpayers are forced to cough up $10 million a year for teachers who have been put into “rubber rooms” where they have no contact with students while disciplinary action against them is being explored, receiving full pay and benefits all the while, the article noted.
‘Kids Come First’
Canter reintroduced her resolution at the LAUSD board’s May 12 meeting, seeking a clear definition of unsatisfactory performance, which currently has no definition in the education code, and aiming also to limit dismissal notice to 30 days instead of 90.
“This motion is not a statement about teachers,” Canter wrote in her blog on May 13. “[It] is about fixing a system that currently puts people who harm children, commit crimes, and harass coworkers back into classrooms with our kids.”
Board members Yolie Flores Aguilar and Tamar Galatzan became cosponsors of the resolution in June.
“This is our opportunity to walk that talk—that kids come first,” Flores Aguilar said. Even with strong union opposition, an amended resolution passed with a 4-3 vote, starting the reform process.
Task Force Created
The amendments require LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines to create a task force to make recommendations to change the state education code in the upcoming legislative session, and appointed State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell to lead it. The rest of the team will include parents, administrators, and union representatives.
Removing teachers involves a “laborious and labyrinthine path” of union grievances, administrative appeals, and court challenges, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The problem is not new to California. From 1990 to 1999, only 227 cases reached the full dismissal process statewide, according to Unsatisfactory Performance, a study conducted by the Pacific Research Institute. In Los Angeles during the same decade, the study shows, only a single teacher was dismissed.
Since April 2009, 132 LAUSD teachers have been awaiting dismissal hearings and are no longer in the classroom but are receiving full pay and benefits.
Evelyn B. Stacey ([email protected]) is a policy fellow in education studies for the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California.
For more information …
Unsatisfactory Performance, by K. Lloyd Billingsley and Thomas C. Dawson, Pacific Research Institute, September 1, 2000: http://liberty.pacificresearch.org/publications/unsatisfactory-performance-how-californias-k-12-education-system-protects-mediocrity-and-how-teacher-quality-can-be-improved
California Education Code: Chapter 4 Article 3: Resignations, Dismissals, Leave of Absence, Section 44930: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=44001-45000&file=44930-44988