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L.A. teacher firings spiked but still costly and lengthy, Deasy says

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, shown at a school board meeting, testified Tuesday in an L.A. County Superior Court trial to overturn some teacher job protections.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy acknowledged Tuesday that teacher dismissals have surged recently, but he insisted Tuesday that state laws still made the process too lengthy and costly.

Deasy was on the witness stand for a second day in a high-profile trial over the state’s job protections for teachers, which are among the most extensive in the nation. So far, Deasy has been the star witness for litigants seeking to overturn the process for dismissing, laying off and granting tenure to teachers.

Deasy reviewed the recent surge under cross-examination from an attorney defending state laws that apply to firing instructors. In the 2009-10 school year, the district dismissed 10 teachers. By 2011-12, that number was 99 and an additional 122 resigned to avoid dismissal.

These records showed that L.A. Unified is well able to work within existing law to dismiss teachers when necessary, said Laura Juran, legal director for the California Teachers Assn. Districts that fire fewer teachers are making a choice that is not forced upon them, she said.

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But the L.A. schools chief stuck to his insistence that the nation’s second-largest school system repeatedly faces a grim choice: either accept that some ineffective instructors will keep their jobs or spend too much to fire them, when limited resources are desperately needed elsewhere. Sometimes, the district will go after a bad teacher; other times, it will not, in part because an independent body will sometimes reinstate ineffective teachers. Such cases cost the school system upward of $350,000, Deasy testified.

An attorney for the California Teachers Assn., James M. Finberg, asserted that L.A. Unified is exaggerating the cost of dismissal by highlighting only the most expensive cases.

The suit is being pursued by the nonprofit group Students Matter, which is funded by a Silicon Valley executive and other donors.

Along with the dismissal process, the suit also targets rules that enable teachers to earn tenure during their second year. The litigants favor a longer period. They also want layoffs based on merit rather than seniority.

Defending the California laws are the California Teachers Assn., the California Federation of Teachers and lawyers for the state.

Deasy started his testimony Monday and will continue on the witness stand Wednesday. The trial could last longer than a month.

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume

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