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Gov. Brown appeals ruling that struck down teacher job protections

EducatorsTrials and ArbitrationCourts and the JudiciaryElectionsJerry Brown
California's governor takes opposing view from reelection opponent in lawsuit over teacher protections
An appeals court will now decide such issues as whether tenure laws should be declared unconstitutional

Gov. Jerry Brown filed an appeal Friday of a ruling that struck down traditional job protections for teachers.

The state’s two largest teacher unions are expected to follow suit in the case of Vergara vs. California. A tentative ruling, announced in June, became final this week, starting a 60-day window for an appeal.

The decision, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu, threw out the state’s tenure process for gradeschool teachers. It also stripped instructors of rules that made dismissing them more difficult and expensive than firing other state employees. And he eliminated regulations that made seniority the primary factor in deciding which teachers to lay off.

Treu accepted the argument of plaintiffs that these rules resulted in a lower-quality teacher work force, damaging the education of students, especially low-income or minority students.

The outcome of the trial “is a victory not only for our nine plaintiffs, but also for students, parents, and teachers across California,” said attorney Theodore J. Boutrous, who represented the students who brought the case.

Treu didn’t ban these job protections in all forms, but absent a successful appeal, his ruling would leave teachers without them pending action in the Legislature.

The litigation was pursued under the banner of Students Matter, a Silicon Valley group founded by tech entrepreneur Dave Welch and also supported by other philanthropists active in education policy.

The group had urged the governor to let the ruling stand and had taken encouragement from Brown’s silence on the issue. Brown was under pressure to appeal from teacher unions, who are among his biggest political backers.

The notice of appeal cited several issues, including that “changes of this magnitude, as a matter of law and policy, require appellate review.”

The notice also faulted the trial judge, saying that he had “declined to provide a detailed statement of the factual and legal bases for [his] ruling.”

The appeal was submitted by state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris.

Any position the governor took could have political impact as he runs for reelection, but he didn’t have the option of waiting until after Election Day.

In Superior Court, the state defended the challenged laws, assisted by lawyers representing teacher unions. They argued that limiting the rights of teachers would be bad for students as well as their members.

“This ruling says that education reform should be driven by how we fire teachers,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.  “We think that completely misses the boat about what needs to happen in school,” he said, citing such issues as the proper training, mentoring and evalution of teachers and funding for lower class sizes.

Earlier Friday, an intent to appeal was announced by state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a Democrat and teachers union ally who also is running for reelection.

“We do not fault doctors when the emergency room is full,” Torlakson said in a release. “We do not criticize the firefighter whose supply of water runs dry. Yet while we crowd our classrooms and fail to properly equip them with adequate resources, those who filed and support this case shamelessly seek to blame teachers who step forward every day to make a difference for our children.”

Torlakson also noted that a bill somewhat streamlining the teacher dismissal process has become law since the Vergara filing.

His opponent, Democrat Marshall Tuck, applauded the Vergara ruling.

Torlakson “stands with his Sacramento funders and not with students,” Tuck said in a release. “Never has it been more clear that it is time for change in California than when the only [statewide] elected official dedicated to education will not side with kids -- even after an independent judge found that the status quo ‘shocks the conscience.'”

Brown’s challenger, Republican Neel Kashkari, also strongly supports the Vergara ruling.

In the wake of the Vergara case, legal challenges to teacher job protections have launched in other states.  

Twitter: @howardblume 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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EducatorsTrials and ArbitrationCourts and the JudiciaryElectionsJerry Brown
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