The Republican caucus in Sacramento won a race to legislative bipartisanship Tuesday, in embracing the request from the LA Unified School District for changes in state law dealing with problem teachers.
"It's not a partisan issue," said Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo.
And to make the point, the Republican caucus cited a letter from Democratic L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigos to Gov. Jerry Brown calling for action. "Republicans stand with Mayor Villaraigosa," read the till now unlikely headline on the announcement.
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A Democrat in the legislature, State Senator Alex Padilla of the San Fernando Valley, has also expressed interest in carrying a bill for LAUSD.
The impetus for the changes stems from the Miramonte Elementary School abuse scandal and the series of teacher misconduct allegationse that has followed it, triggering public outrage.
Mark Berndt was accused of mistreating children at Miramonte Elementary with cockroaches and cookies tainted with bodily fluid. What further troubled many is that while trying to fire Berndt, the school district allowed him to resign, and agreed to pay him a $40,000 settlement, in addition to his pension.
In the wake of this, LAUSD leadership saw both the need to respond, and the opportunity to press for long-sought changes that date back years before the Miramonte uproar, and in some cases deal only tangentialy with the issue of removing teachers who have committed crimes.
The District's legal office presented a list of"Top Ten Recommended Legislative Changes." They include: allowing districts to go back more than four years when citing misconduct; permitting the dismissal process to proceed during summer vacation; making state appeal hearings advisory, rather than binding; and stripping pensions from teachers who are convicted of school-related felonies.
Teachers unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles, have suggested the real problem is not the law, but a lack of district vigilance.
"What we're doing is, we seem to be calling for changes that will cause things to be the way they already are," said Warren Fletcher, UTLA president. "The district has the ability to remove a teacher form a school at any time."
Agreeing with that--to a point--are some of the Republican lawmakers calling for change.
"I think sometimes people complain about the processes as an excuse for lethargy and for doing nothing," said Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton.
The Republican caucus is planning to introduce its bill Thursday. State Senator Padilla has not indicated when the Democratic version will be ready, nor how it will differ. Democrats traditionally have had closer relationships with California's teachers unions than Republicans.