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School officials back swifter firings

A majority of Los Angeles school board members said Tuesday that they believe state laws governing teacher discipline need to be revised to allow more swift and effective removal of substandard teachers and other employees, although they acknowledged that changes appear unlikely this year.

In a recent series of articles detailing the lengthy and arduous process of dismissing tenured teachers and other educators in California, The Times found that firing a permanent teacher can often take years of paperwork and hearings. Such instructors can appeal their dismissals to specially convened state boards, which have overturned firings more than a third of the time.

While the process inches forward, scores of teachers are removed from schools and paid their full salaries but given no responsibilities, the newspaper found. The district pays about $10 million annually to such “housed” employees.

District officials believe that the problem rests in state law, which they say sets up hurdles to dismissing even poorly performing employees. The Times, however, found that some of the problem rests with the Los Angeles Unified School District, which dismisses relatively few teachers compared with other districts and loses more appealed cases.

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Shortly before The Times’ series was published, board member Marlene Canter asked her colleagues to press state legislators to revise laws governing teacher dismissals. She withdrew the motion when it was clear that she did not have enough support, following vehement opposition from union officials. The board then agreed to form a task force to study the issue.

Canter reintroduced her motion Tuesday, and four of the seven board members said in interviews that state law needs to be changed. Board President Monica Garcia, among others, cautioned that the solution would be complicated and needed careful study.

“We need a comprehensive strategy, we need to present a well-thought-out legislation, and we [need] someone who will carry legislation. We have to do all of our homework,” said board member Yolie Flores Aguilar.

State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who is chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee and objected to Canter’s proposal two weeks ago, said Tuesday that she wants to study the issue.

Romero said she believes state law needs only “tweaks.” She said L.A. Unified officials are mainly to blame for not getting rid of poor instructors.

She cited cases outlined in The Times in which district administrators hurt their chances to fire teachers by not giving them prompt written notice of poor performance. Romero also said L.A. Unified has not stood up to the teachers union, citing the district’s habit of not giving accused teachers work while they are on administrative leave.

“At the end of the day, you can’t legislate backbone,” Romero said.

L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who has called state laws protecting errant teachers a “sacred cow,” said he doubted that Sacramento lawmakers could make any changes this year. In the meantime, he said, the district could take steps to strengthen its policies.

Cortines already has pushed to have claims against administrators investigated faster because he believes that it could save money. He also said that he would recommend that local district superintendents be held responsible for ensuring that principals spend more time in classrooms to evaluate teachers.

“Someone needs to be held accountable,” Cortines said.

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jason.song@latimes.com


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