Teacher Firings Conflict With LAUSD “Wake-Up Call”

School board members contend the process to fire teachers is too onerous, although an NBC4 investigation shows no fired teacher has been reinstated since 2009

Although it's become conventional wisdom that the process for firing substandard teachers is too cumbersome, an NBC4 investigation found that the Los Angeles Unified School District has had little difficulty firing more than 1,000 teachers in recent years.

Within the past year, LAUSD has terminated 853 teachers, and only a fraction are pursuing appeals. Records show that since 2009, no fired teacher who went through the entire appeals process to a ruling has been reinstated.

On Tuesday, the School Board is scheduled to consider a resolution calling for a change in state law to expedite firing teachers for cause, and give districts the final word.  Under the proposal by Board Member Tamar Galatzan, appeal decisions would only be advisory, and could not compel a district to rehire a teacher.

In recent years, even without any change to state law, the district has been more aggressive in firing educators, according to  LAUSD's Human Resources Chief Vivan Ekchian.

"We have taken many more cases to the Board of Education to initiate dismissal based on performance," Ekchian said. "And that has been a dramatic change."

Those terminated are entitled to have their case heard at an administrative hearing, but the reality is, the vast majority do not choose to do so.

Since 2010, 79 terminated teachers have requested hearings: 21 are still pending and 56 were resolved prior to a hearing, according to Alicia Boomer, staff counsel of California's Office of Administrative Hearings.

Only two teachers stayed with their appeals to the point of administrative hearing rulings. Both lost.

"Most of those settlements that are entered into result in the resignation of the individual," said Alfred Molina, Chief Labor & Employment Counsel for LAUSD.

Miramonte Abuse Scandal | School Abuse Scandal

Regardless, School Board member Nury Martinez and Board President Monica Garcia joined Galatzan in arguing that the termination process needs to be "streamlined" to make it faster and less costly to the district.

Board members described the recent sex abuse scandal at Los Angeles schools as a “wake up call” to state legislators.

Galatzan argues that the appeals process can take between two and seven years. She said the longest and most-expensive firing in district history cost more than $1.6 million to get the teacher dismissed and to defend the lawsuit.

Others are swiftly fired, she said, only to be ordered reinstated on appeal--however, records obtained by NBC4 show that has not happened within the last three years.

"Many cases we rehire an individual who we don't feel comfortable returning to the classroom just have to house this person," Galatzan said. "The cost is a deterrent to doing what's right for the schools and for the children."

United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher said the union supports the measures to increase student safety, but said they do not absolve the district of blame for the recent spate of sex abuse cases.

"While the school board considers changes to policy, it is important to remember that we are in the current situation because LAUSD has not met basic standards of vigilance on a daily basis," Fletcher said in a statement.

"LAUSD’s failure of supervision led to a situation at Miramonte Elementary where a single principal supervised staff and more than 1,400 students, with no assistant principal," Fletcher said.

Legislators including State Senator Alex Padilla (D-San Ferndando Valley) and Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (Diamond Bar) have expressed interest in carrying legislation to reform the teacher dismissal process.

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