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Friday, Apr 05 2013 09:20 PM

Root out bad teachers, cherish good ones

By The Bakersfield Californian

A legislative bill that would speed up the process of firing incompetent or abusive teachers while protecting their due process rights is welcome and long overdue.

The difficulty in terminating teachers who would have been more easily dismissed in most other jobs has long been a contentious point with parents, school districts and even some fellow teachers who must work with and pick up the slack for underperforming educators.

Powerful teachers unions, including the California Teachers Association, have vehemently opposed -- and successfully blocked -- previous attempts, largely in the name of preventing teachers from being subjected to unfair dismissal by vengeful administrators or based on unfounded accusations.

Now, a new bill moving through Sacramento addresses those and related concerns, such as the timing and costs to school districts involved in firing teachers. What gives this bill a real chance of passing is that it has the support of the powerful CTA.

A similar bill failed last year, largely due to issues regarding due process for accused teachers. That bill gave final authority for teacher dismissals to school boards and eliminated appeals panels comprised of teachers and an administrative law judge. The new bill, authored by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, retains the appeals panel, a provision that makes perfect sense. That was the key to earning CTA support.

The bill also speeds up what currently can be a long and expensive termination process. Buchanan says it can take from 18 months to two years, with costs surpassing $100,000, to dismiss a teacher. The new bill requires the entire appeals process to be completed within seven months. Districts must present documents stating their intention to dismiss a teacher within 30 days of starting the process. That's fair not only to the districts but to the affected teachers.

Good schoolteachers are among the most valued public servants in any community; in sufficient numbers, they can change the economic course of a city. Their unions are powerful entities that serve a critical role in protecting their workplace rights. But with their substantial power comes a responsibility to recognize that not all teachers are well-suited to their work, and fiscal times have changed. Wasteful spending, either by protecting underperforming teachers or engaging in drawn-out termination proceedings, takes money out of the classroom, where it is most needed.

And in extreme cases where teachers are accused of serious crimes, including sexual abuse crimes, lengthy proceedings can create angst and animosity among the group teachers should most want on their side -- parents. The proposal, AB 375, seems like a fair compromise between providing accused teachers the representation and due process they deserve and allowing administrators to run their districts in a cost-effective and responsible manner. It's a win-win for everybody: districts, hardworking and dedicated teachers, taxpayers and, most importantly, students.

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