Schwarzenegger backs bill that would change teachers’ dismissal standards


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threw his weight behind state legislation on Tuesday that proposes to give school administrators the ability to assign or fire teachers based on their effectiveness and to streamline the dismissal process.

Schwarzenegger made similar suggestions during a speech in January, and state Sen. Bob Huff, (R-Diamond Bar) wrote the bill, which is to be heard in the Legislature on Wednesday.

At a press conference Tuesday at Markham Middle School in Watts, Schwarzenegger cited Times stories about the difficulties in evaluating teachers and said California’s schools need to operate more like private companies that can make personnel decisions based on merit rather than seniority. Currently the only criterion public school administrators can consider for layoffs is teacher seniority.

That “means the best and most committed … teachers are getting laid off while ineffective teachers are allowed to keep their jobs,” the governor said.

The bill also calls for:

-- Changing the dates by which teachers must be notified they could be laid off. Currently, districts must issue preliminary notices in March; that would be extended to June, when districts have a better understanding of their budgets.

-- Allowing school boards to have the final say on teacher dismissals rather than allowing teachers to contest their firing to a state commission. The Commission on Professional Competence overturned nearly a third of teachers’ dismissals statewide over the last 15 years, the Times reported last May.

-- Eliminating a requirement that educators continue to receive full pay when they are placed on administrative leave after being accused of wrongdoing.

Although Schwarzenegger has called for changes in the way teachers are evaluated, the bill is not specific on that issue. Lawmakers at the state and federal levels, including President Obama, have called for student test scores to be used in teacher evaluations, but that decision would be left to local districts under the proposed legislation.

At the news conference, Schwarzenegger also announced his support for a class-action lawsuit filed in February on behalf of students at three of Los Angeles’ worst-performing middle schools, including Markham, which have had to lay off dozens of teachers. The suit claims those students were denied their legal rights to an education and aims to prevent the Los Angeles Unified School District from laying off more teachers in those schools.

Because of California’s budget woes, districts throughout the state have issued preliminary layoff notices to thousands of younger, less experienced instructors.

Some of the bill’s supporters said the lawsuit helped spur legislators into taking action.

“It provided new energy to the debate,” said state Sen. Gloria Romero, (D-Los Angeles), who co-wrote earlier education reform legislation. Lawmakers “don’t want to be known as the do-nothing branch of government.”

A.J. Duffy, president of the Los Angeles teachers union, has said he’s not opposed to considering lengthening the time it takes for a teacher to get tenure from the current two years but that he is adamantly opposed to the bill. He said it would amount to an attack on teachers’ rights and would hurt California’s ability to recruit and retain educators.

“There is no research showing that changes in seniority and tenure have any effect on student achievement,” Duffy said in a statement.

Other groups, including the California Teachers Assn., the state’s largest educator union, and the Consumer Attorneys of California, also opposed the bill.

David Sanchez, the president of the teachers group, said the legislation was similar to Schwarzenegger’s proposals in 2005 to reform tenure. That ballot initiative was defeated at the polls after heavy spending by teachers unions.

“We’re going to be working hard to defeat it,” Sanchez said.

Several observers said the proposed legislation was influenced by the work of a Los Angeles Unified School District task force examining teacher effectiveness. The task force was made up of educators, administrators and union members and made some similar recommendations. Unlike the Los Angeles task force, the governor’s proposed legislation did not call for lengthening the time it takes to get tenure to up to four years.

Union members who served on the task force did not agree with all of the final recommendations.

The task force is expected to present its findings to the city school board next Tuesday, and Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he would weigh the suggestions and include other feedback.

“The process must be in partnership with our bargaining units,” he said in a statement.