July 20 2012
Vicki E. Alger
Protecting students from predators should be a no-brainer. But union regulations intended to shield teachers from arbitrary dismissal often become weapons against students in the hands of classroom predators.
Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network (CTEN), has a powerful new City Journal article detailing what he calls the “tortuous legal process that makes it nearly impossible for schools to rid themselves of even these depraved teachers….[and] the extent to which teachers’ unions will go to protect their prerogatives.”
The horrific crimes leading to the indictment of Los Angeles Unified School District middle-school teacher Mark Berndt inspired legislation that would speed up the process of removing child predators from the classroom. Sand explains how the California Teachers Union, the state’s largest teachers union, killed that legislation:
State senator Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat and former L.A. city councilman, wrote Senate Bill 1530, which would streamline the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals. Padilla’s bill was actually quite narrow in scope, dealing only with credible claims that a teacher has abused a child with sex, drugs, or violence. Existing law lets local school boards immediately suspend a teacher under “specified conditions, including immoral conduct.”
Padilla’s bill simply would add language allowing a school board to suspend an employee for “serious or egregious unprofessional conduct.” Garnering strong bipartisan support, Padilla’s bill sailed through the state senate in late May on a vote of 33 to 4.
The state assembly, however, is a stronghold for the California Teachers Association, which strongly opposes SB 1530. Before and during the hearings on Padilla’s legislation in the assembly education committee, union leaders and their confederates launched a propaganda effort against the bill, deploying all their standard talking points. The union maintained that SB 1530 was nothing more than a “teacher-bashing bill.” …It was demoralizing and even “un-American.” Though these attacks were transparently unfair, legislators got the message. The bill needed six “yeas” from the 11-member committee to pass; it received only five, with two “nays” and four abstentions.
Apparently none of the committee Democrats had the sense to ask how protecting children from pedophiles amounts to “teacher-bashing.”
… The current system is so unwieldy that it discourages administrators from taking action against all but the most egregious miscreants. …“In the past decade,” reported Beth Barrett at the L.A. Weekly in 2010, “LAUSD officials spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district’s 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance—and only four were fired, during legal struggles that wore on, on average, for five years each. Two of the three others were paid large settlements, and one was reinstated. The average cost of each battle is $500,000.”
The high cost of firing teachers helps explain why the Los Angeles Unified School District simply paid Berndt a $40,000 severance rather than undertake the formal dismissal process, even though he’s accused of the most despicable crimes against children.
… Teachers’ unions are nothing if not predictable… But what is the assembly Democrats’ excuse? ...Former state senator Gloria Romero isn’t buying the assembly committee’s excuses. Romero, now California director of Democrats for Education Reform, had especially harsh words for the four abstainers—South Bay Democrat Betsy Butler, Rialto Democrat Wilmer Amina Carter, Monterey Park Democrat Mike Eng, and Santa Barbara Democrat Das Williams. “This is how bills die,” Romero told me. “Death by silence.” She added that the abstainers are “cowering in fear” and remaining silent because they’re afraid to run afoul of the “moneyed political interests”—the teachers’ unions. No wonder CTA considers the state assembly “their house.”
Four years ago, California had the opportunity to keep children safe in school—which is actually a constitutionally guaranteed right under the Golden State’s constitution. The Safe Schools Guarantee bill was introduced in 2008 and was heard in the CTA’s Assembly Education Committee. The bill would have let any parent with a reasonable apprehension for their children’s safety transfer to another school of their parents’ choice. No surprisingly it went down in flames for the same reasons Sand details.
Had the Assembly Education Committee done its job four years ago, how many children would have been protected from predators like Berndt? We may never know, but parents should not have to wait years at a time before some politicians or special-interest groups get around to acting—in children’s interests, that is, not their own. All parents should be empowered to use Safety Opportunity Scholarships (SOS) to ensure their children are in safe schools.