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Bill to streamline some teacher dismissals clears Legislature

Bill to streamline some teacher dismissals clears Legislature
Former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt sits in court with his attorney, Manny Medrano, in November. Bernt pleaded no contest to 23 counts of lewd conduct with students. Lawmakers passed a measure Thursday that would speed the dismissal process for teachers accused of misconduct. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The California Assembly on Thursday unanimously approved a measure backed by often-warring factions of education policy that would make it easier to fire teachers charged with grave misconduct such as sexual abuse.

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo), the bill's author, said the current appeal process for dismissals "takes too long and costs too much money, diverting valuable resources from the classrooms."

Under the measure, appeals that now take one or two years to be heard would begin within six months. In cases of egregious misconduct, such as child abuse or sexual abuse, the hearings would go before an administrative law judge within 60 days.

Lawmakers had made several unsuccessful attempts in recent years to make it easier to fire teachers charged with severe offenses after a string of high-profile sexual abuse cases, including one involving Mark Berndt, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, rocked the state.

A similar bill by Buchanan was vetoed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown. But Brown spokesman Jim Evans said Thursday the governor supported this year’s proposal.

This year's measure has the California Teachers Assn. on board as well as the advocacy group EdVoice — two organizations often at odds on issues such as teacher tenure and standardized testing.

The clash between teachers unions and education reform advocates was particularly apparent earlier this week, when a court decision in Los Angeles struck down the state's teacher tenure and seniority laws.

That case was not mentioned on the Assembly floor Thursday. Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen (R-Modesto), who had cheered the verdict, struck a conciliatory note when speaking in favor of the measure, of which she was coauthor.

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"As leaders of this state, it's also really important that we highlight the fact that the overwhelming number of teachers in our state are doing a fantastic job serving kids," said Olsen.

The measure, AB 215, passed the Assembly on a 76-0 vote. It had cleared the Senate on Monday and now heads to the governor's desk.

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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