Last week, Gov.
Existing state law makes it enormously difficult, expensive and time-consuming for school districts to fire teachers who are doing a truly bad job. Previous attempts to reform the system have been immediately squashed under fierce lobbying by the California Teachers Assn. This year, AB 375, by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo), tinkered around the edges of the existing process, which involves creating a special appeals panel each time a district wants to fire a teacher. School administrators opposed the bill, objecting mostly to the shorter timeline for gathering evidence. We believe the bill would have improved the process, though only modestly.
But perhaps the demise of AB 375 can become an opportunity to pass something better — to make more significant changes in a system that provides extraordinary levels of protection even for teachers who mistreat students or who sit in the back of the classroom reading newspapers while their students are kept busy watching movies, and not even educational movies.
School districts would prefer, at least in the case of teachers accused of molesting or otherwise abusing students, to have the power to fire unilaterally, with no independent appeals process. But there are enough managerial abuses within schools to make this problematic, and teachers unions voice a legitimate concern that once school districts have this power over possibly abusive teachers, they will seek it for all teachers — and possibly even use it to fire more experienced staff members in order to hire younger ones at lower salaries.
One state that might be viewed as a model is New Jersey, where a law passed last year allows tenured teachers to be dismissed after two unsatisfactory job evaluations. Any disputes over a firing are resolved through binding arbitration, with limits placed on the length and time it may take to complete the arbitration.