When teachers stand accused of sex, violence or drug offenses involving children, the cases should be resolved swiftly and fairly. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.
That became clear when the Los Angeles school district opted to pay $40,000 to Mark Berndt, a teacher charged this year with 23 counts of lewd acts on a child, to retire. The district, according to the Los Angeles Times, concluded the dismissal process was too lengthy and costly.
Indeed, the law protecting teachers is often ridiculous. For example, it prohibits giving a notice of dismissal or suspension to a permanent employee between May 15 and Sept. 15. When there's a pattern of crimes, the district cannot present a hearing panel with evidence from cases more than four years old. And that hearing panel usually consists of an administrative law judge and, get this, two teachers.
So state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, in the wake of a string of Los Angeles teacher abuse cases, crafted legislation that would improve the discipline process for the worst incidents. Senate Bill 1530 passed the upper house by a 33-4 vote with the support of school administrators and school boards around the state. But an Assembly committee killed it by one vote following heavy teacher union lobbying in opposition.
Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, voted against it. Buchanan served two decades as a trustee of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District before her election to the state Legislature. Drawing on her experiences, she raised concerns about Padilla's bill. But she offered no solutions of her own.
She argued that the entire teacher discipline process for all cases, from competency to sexual abuse, must be revamped. We agree. But we don't think that was a legitimate reason to block incremental change to shorten the process for the most serious cases.
Padilla's bill would have affected teacher sex, violence and drug cases involving children. For those cases, it would have eliminated teachers on the hearing panel, allowed use of related evidence more than four years old, made the administrative law judge's ruling advisory to the school board and eliminated the four-month moratorium each year on issuing notices of dismissal.
The bill might not have been perfect. But the key points were solid. We're disappointed that Buchanan opted not to try to work with the author to resolve her concerns. Instead, she helped torpedo the entire legislation.
We're not sure that we trust Buchanan, who is cozy with the teacher unions, is sincere about discipline reform. It's politically easy to kill a bill by arguing it doesn't do enough and then walk away from the problem.
She says she's willing to help lead the effort to develop a more timely and cost-effective system for all disciple cases. OK assemblywoman, by the start of the next legislative session, let's see a meaningful discipline reform package that will allow districts to efficiently and fairly get rid of instructors who don't belong in the classroom.
It's time to walk the talk.