Protecting teachers hurts students 

Mark Berndt was a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles when it was discovered that he possessed dozens of inappropriate pictures of students. He was suspended in February 2011. He had been cited for inappropriate conduct before, as far back as 1994.

But none of that was in the charges supporting his termination. Under current rules, nothing more than four years old can be used in such hearings.

The hearing was to be in October 2011 before the state Commission of Professional Competence, which consists of three people: an administrative law judge, and teachers picked by Berndt and the school district. A majority of commissioners decide whether to terminate, suspend or reinstate teachers.

Among other things, Berndt was accused of feeding children “an unknown cloudy-colored liquid substance.” He was later arrested on suspicion of molesting 23 kids.

Before the hearing, the Los Angeles Unified School District paid Berndt $40,000 to resign — with full pension and benefits.  

Which brings me to Senate Bill 1530, proposed by Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles), which would create a streamlined system for terminating teachers accused of sex offenses, child abuse and substance abuse (excepting marijuana).

Padilla’s proposal would allow evidence from more than four years ago to be considered in a dismissal proceeding. And instead of a commission hearing process (so onerous that Berndt got $40,000 to avoid it) a dismissal would need to be heard only by an administrative law judge; the school board would make the ultimate decision to terminate.

The bill sailed through the state Senate, but stalled in the Assembly Committee on Educationw, where Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) voted against it. Betsy Butler (D-El Segundo), Wilmer Carter (D-Rialto), Mike Eng (D-Alhambra) and Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) all abstained, letting it fail.

Oakley Union Elementary School District Superintendent Rick Rogers testified that, “Even with this bill, certificated employees in this state will still have more due process rights than any other living human being on the planet.” As for the unions who so strenuously oppose the bill, “They’ve taken such an extreme position on this particular issue that they’ve lost a lot of credibility.”

Teachers in New Jersey understand the perils of defending a defunct system tooth and nail. They just helped to pass legislation making it harder to get tenure and easier to fire underperforming teachers.

“This legislation moves us in the right direction by making it harder to earn tenure, and less expensive and time-consuming to remove teachers who are not performing well,” said Barbara Keshishian of the New Jersey Education Association.

California teachers and their pocket politicians should take note.

Wit and wisdom from Fremont

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Crazytown) is running again for the seat he’s held since 1973. He recently told reporters that he wouldn’t debate his opponent because he’d “only get stupid questions like you’re asking that have nothing to do with issues.”   

This past week, Stark switched campaign managers from Alex Tourk to Michael Terris. But I’m entirely certain that wasn’t his problem.

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Melissa Griffin

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