April 8, 2014

POLITICS AND UNION STRENGTH IS NO EXCUSE FOR FAILING TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM ABUSIVE TEACHERS120824015433-ac-lah-california-blocks-sex-crimes-bill-00023815-story-top

Summary: California lawmakers have made two major attempts to enact laws that increase child safety in California schools with Senate Bill 1530 (2012) and Assembly Bill 375 (2013); neither of which has made their way past Gov. Jerry Brown.  Both lawmakers and schools have the same goal to keep children safe at school, but differ with methods of implementation.  Complicating the problem is the powerful California Teachers Association, which has the ability to out-lobby opposition, and influence California Democrats’ political careers.

On paper, the problem of child safety in schools is of utmost importance for both California’s school systems and Sacramento.  So, if a teacher is under allegations of sexual misconduct, such as Armando Gonzalez, formerly a teacher at the El Sereno Elementary School in Los Angeles, both sides can see the benefit to seeing this teacher immediately stripped of their credentials until due process of the law has run its course.  However sensible such a process would be, there is a clear disconnect between California’s schools and government.  The day after California submitted AB-375 to Gov. Jerry Brown for signature, the LAUSD issued a press release admonishing Sacramento for creating a “cumbersome and costly” process to dismiss such teachers.  However, since Gov. Brown vetoed AB-375 in October 2013, California legislators and schools are back to the drawing board, hoping to strike the right balance of protecting our children while protecting the teacher’s rights as well.  If the end-state of both the schools and California’s government is to keep students safe, why is there a delta between the two sides to make it happen?

To understand where we are now, we have to evaluate how we got here to gain a full appreciation of the context.  In 2012, SB-1530 was proposed, which would have given school boards the authority to suspend a teacher under such allegations, and have the final authority for dismissals along with being able to serve a dismissal notice to teachers year-round (at writing, they’re unable to do so during the summer months).  However, this bill never made it beyond the Assembly committee; two Democrats voted against it (including the author of AB-375, Joan Buchanan), another four abstained, and the bill was heavily lobbied against by the California Teachers.  Taking a simple look at how the votes turned out, I make the argument that Democrats and the CTA had a vested interest in protecting sexual predators in your children’s classrooms.   Despite the result of SB-1530, bipartisan sentiment was that there was a need to address gaps in keeping unprofessional teachers out of the schools, and proposed AB-375 to address them. 

From the school district’s perspective, AB-375 neither strengthened nor weakened the current law, which equates to a waste of taxpayer’s time and money and ultimately tacks on additional red tape for the school districts to rid their schools of sexual predators, and kowtows to strong California teachers unions.  To contrast the sentiment of the individual school districts, the CTA opines that AB-375 does streamline the process to remove predators from the classroom by removing ineffective parts of the bureaucratic process to hold such teachers accountable, all while preserving the protection of their teachers against potentially false accusations of sexual abuse.  Specifically, AB-375 would condense the dismissal appeal to seven months as opposed to having no deadline, with average cases stretching out from 12-18 months.  The CTA president, Dean Vogel, insisted that SB-1530 wasn’t about keeping kids safe, but rather a “highly-charged political reaction” to the Mark Berndt scandal.  Berndt was a former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School,  who pled no contest and will serve 25 years in prison as part of his plea bargain after it was discovered he spoon-fed his students cookies laced with his semen.  As it exists now, AB-375 is better than the current law, but is not the timeliest or ideal solution to keep our kids safe in California schools; SB-1530 is.    AB-375 would reduce appeal times, but not as quickly as SB-1530.

There is clearly a divide between lawmakers in Sacramento and individual school districts on the topic.  The impasse stems from both sides’ self-interests, and can be overcome if self-interests are cast aside in favor of their mutual interest of child safety in California schools.  Gov. Brown, in his veto message, called on the Legislature to work with stakeholders and identify changes that strikes balance and reduces procedural complexities.  There is a sense of hope with the Governor’s veto of AB-375.  Brown, a Democrat, shot down the preferred Democrat bill, which indicates that practicality of the issue is more important than party affiliation.  Right now, the situation is manageable in that the Governor wants a sensible bill to arrive to his desk, and that both the state government and school districts have the same goal.  The door is wide-open to get the right proposal into law. 

As is the case with most political posturing, there is but one large obstacle to seeing such a proposal from coming to Gov. Brown – the California Teachers Association.  Using Berndt’s case as a key example to underscore the CTAs power, LAUSD secretly paid him $40,000 to quit.  This happened for two reasons: money and utility.  The money part is simple enough; $40,000 is much cheaper than paying for Brendt’s pension and attorney costs if Brendt would have challenged the dismissal.  The payment also was useful; it’s possible that the unusually powerful Commission on Professional Competence, a three-member team controlled by two CTA-vetted, teachers union appointees and an administrative law judge.  The CPC has increasingly received criticism for acting on behalf of teachers instead of children.  The CTA is a powerful union, with 325,000 members and an annual profit of $190 million dollars.  The CTA can exert power in several ways; first, it can use their substantial profit to buy influence in Sacramento, such as the case of SB-1530s death.  Also, membership of all teachers into the CTA is compulsory, and must pay $1,000/year to the union as an employment requirement.  The due money can literally be used to push the CTAs agenda, even if individual, unionized teachers disagree with it – which is the basis for California schoolteacher’s federal lawsuit against the state.

The CTA has a vested interest in keeping things status quo; California essentially mandates that they make a hefty profit off of their teachers’ forced entry, they control the final approval for a teachers’ competence, and can outbid opposition in Sacramento.  Perhaps the thought that stands out the most is for the four Democrats that abstained from the SB-1530 vote.  Education reformers believe that they did so out of fear that the CTA has enough power to launch – and ruin – Democrats’ political careers in California, and would’ve aggressively sought to ruin their opponents’ careers.  Personally, I think the California Teachers’ Association is too powerful, and needs to be weakened significantly.  Wisconsin’s state and local labor unions were stripped of many of their bargaining rights in 2011, though it was to address increasing state debt as opposed to purely social issues in the case of the CTA.   California’s state constitution explicitly recognizes the inalienable rights of students and staff to safe public schools; any labor union that purposely seeks to disrupt that immutable concept should be deemed unconstitutional, and dealt with appropriately.

Estey & Bomberger is fully committed to representing victims of institutional abuses.  No child should ever be exposed to such heinous breaches of their innocence as sexual abuse causes.  We will exhaust all efforts in providing the best case for our victims and holding our institutions responsible.


LA Unified Blames ‘Cumbersome’ Law for Dismissal Delay

California Assembly Bill 375 – School employees: dismissal or suspension

LAUSD Press Release – September 19, 2013

Teacher Dismissal Bill: No Added Concern for Predators

Why California Democrats Protect Sex Abuser Teachers

California Senate Bill 1530 – School employees: dismissal, suspension, and leave of absence procedures

CTA – Fact Sheet AB 375 (Buchanan)

Elementary school teacher pleads guilty to blindfolding students and spoon-feeding them cookies laced with his semen in sick ‘tasting game’

Governor Brown veto message for AB-375

California schoolteachers’ lawsuit over mandatory union dues moving forward

Thousands of Wisconsin union workers protest budget plan

EdVoice: AB-375 Request for Veto

Article 1, California Constitution