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California Ballot Initiative Targets Teacher-Misconduct Procedures

A California advocacy group has submitted paperwork to put a referendum on the ballot aiming to give school districts more latitude and reduce costs in bringing charges against teachers for "egregious misconduct."

The advocacy group, EdVoice, hopes to collect enough signatures to put the proposed measure on next November's ballot, reports John Fensterwald at Edsource.  It's partly a response to California lawmakers' failed efforts to enact legislation streamlining the teacher-dismissal process in such cases.

The text for the proposed initiative contends that it's too costly and difficult to fire teachers accused of sexually abusing students or other serious crimes, a process that can be drawn out as criminal charges are filed. Districts have also dealt with the problem by transferring teachers or offering secretive buyouts that don't prevent them from working in other schools, rather than following dismissal procedures.

Much of this is a reponse to the Los Angeles district, which reportedly botched some of those procedures and agreed to pay teacher Mark Berndt—a teacher at Miramonte middle school accused of feeding his semen to students—a $40,000 payout not to appeal his dismissal. (Berndt pleaded guilty to criminal charges in November.)

Partly in response to the Miramonte scandal, California lawmakers recently considered two proposals to addressed teacher misconduct: one in 2012 that teachers' unions opposed, and another this year that was significantly more labor-friendly and applied to more types of infractions, which Gov. Jerry Brown ultimately vetoed.

This ballot initiative is much closer to the 2012 measure. Among other things, it would: 

  • Remove limitations on the amount of evidence and testimony that could be presented during a hearing;
  • Remove limitations on amending written charges against a teacher;
  • End policies allowing the removal of complaints, reprimands, punishments, or other disciplinary action from teachers' personnel records;
  • Require hearings on egregoius misconduct to be conducted solely by an administrative law judge;
  • Require judges to prioritize such hearings;
  • If the teacher is terminated, allow the district to recover salary and benefits paid out to the employee 30 days after the charges were served;
  • On appeals, make the losing party responsible for legal fees; and
  • Prevent the state legislature from altering aspects of the teacher-dismissal code.

EdVoice—headed by Bill Lucia, a former executive director of the state board of education—also supports reforms to teacher evaluations and the expansion of charter schools in the Golden State.

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