An East Bay legislator's bill to streamline the teacher firing process has made its way to the governor's desk, but its fate is uncertain now that a Los Angeles judge has ruled that current teacher tenure, dismissal procedures and layoff protocols are unconstitutional.
Assembly Bill 215 unanimously passed the state Assembly on Thursday, following unanimous passage in the Senate on Monday.
The bill, which had twice been torpedoed in different iterations over the past two years, was partly inspired by this newspaper's report on a Brentwood special needs teacher convicted of child abuse yet not fired.
"We all agree that the current dismissal appeal process takes too long and costs too much money," bill author Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, the Assembly Education Committee chair, said in a statement. "The only ones who benefit are attorneys. The public demands a process that is fair and efficient and responds to the needs of school districts to efficiently manage their work force. Buchanan was not available to comment on how the court decision earlier this week might impact her bill, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judge Rolf Treu stayed his decision to allow the appellate process to continue. AB 215 will continue on its track as well, although Gov. Jerry Brown has not indicated whether he would sign it.
Buchanan told the Sacramento Bee she hopes legislators could work out a compromise rather than let the court decision strike down long-standing teacher rights.
"I think it's always better if you can bring everyone to the table to find a solution," Buchanan said. "It's certainly better than having a solution imposed on anybody."
In his ruling, the judge called the current dismissal process "tortuous," citing evidence heard in court that firings can take from two to almost 10 years and cost between $50,000 and $450,000, leaving many districts to allow ineffective teachers to remain in classrooms.
Treu said the current dismissal statutes were "so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory."
Buchanan's bill aims to expedite the removal of teachers engaged in egregious misconduct, such as child abuse, sexual abuse and certain drug crimes. It requires the first hearing on a dismissal to be held within six months. The legislation has support from teacher's unions and reform advocates, unlike earlier versions.
In 2012, Senate Bill 1530 was killed in Buchanan's education committee and AB 375 last year was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
"The goal of this bill is to simplify the process for hearing and deciding teacher dismissal cases," Brown wrote in his 2013 veto letter of AB 375. "I share the authors' desire to streamline the teacher discipline process, but this bill is an imperfect solution. I encourage the Legislature to continue working with stakeholders to identify changes that are balanced and reduce procedural complexities."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.