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Teacher dismissal-bill veto should be women's work

By Gloria Romero

(From the Orange County Register, September 30, 2013)

Women’s-rights advocates and organizations nationally are expressing outrage over the actions of a Montana judge’s sentencing of a teacher who raped his female student to a mere 30 days in jail. The victim later committed suicide. The predator has already completed his sentence.

The case made a mockery of the egregious act committed against the minor student. Although nothing can bring back the life of the young victim, a movement is mounting to remove the judge.

In San Diego, women’s rights advocates confronted, and forced the resignation of, a groping, touching, sexually harassing mayor. They sent a strong message that misconduct would not be tolerated in elected office. Simultaneously, voters in New York soundly defeated male candidates involved separately in prostitution and sexting scandals.

Nationally, it appeared that women would not tolerate sex-related misconduct in government.

So why the disturbing silence from California’s female legislators and women’s organizations who have remained mute or even - perhaps unintentionally - actually supported protecting teachers who commit egregious misconduct against students and co-workers - including sexual harassment and rape?

On a largely partisan vote, Democrats supported Assembly Bill 375, which, while supposedly a strengthening of the teacher discipline and dismissal system, fails to protect schoolchildren from teacher predators and imposes new limitations on children’s rights to testify in such cases. California’s school boards, administrators and education reformers opposed the bill. Not one lawyer representing school district taxpayers supported it.

So why did it pass? Follow the money: The biggest political contributors to the Democratic Party - the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers - unabashedly used their clout with the men who lead the state Assembly and Senate to strong-arm, and then silence, critics and force the bill to the governor’s desk.

Once Senate debate - in which opposition was expressed - concluded, AB375 was immediately passed and transmitted to the Assembly. Presiding over the voting was the Assembly speaker himself, ordering the bill to be presented following a recess, when few legislators had yet returned, in order to avoid any embarrassing questions.

Faster than one could say fait accompli, the speaker closed the vote and dispatched AB375 to the governor.

So, where is the outrage now - especially from women?

I recently wrote in this space that Capitol insiders had identified the person with the most influence upon the governor as none other than the first lady of California: Anne Gust Brown.

It is to her that I now turn, along with mothers of school children - joined by supportive and equally outraged fathers - who now implore her to exert her influence on her Jesuit-trained husband and have him do the right thing for our young daughters - and sons - who may find themselves trapped in a classroom with a sexual predator with not much chance for justice under AB375 should they become a victim. Undoubtedly, the governor - a former state attorney general - should understand that protecting pedophiles and rapists in classrooms is not a justice system we should embrace. But, perhaps his wife can help him see that our children deserve better.

Only a veto on AB375 can undo the outrageous choice to protect suspected pedophiles rather than children that was enacted by the predominantly male Legislature, with the disturbing complicity of some female legislators, and at the behest of the male-led teacher’s unions. If Montana can start a movement to protect children, and women can oust bad politicians, then, why can’t our governor do the right thing?

Flawed teacher-dismissal bill merits veto by Brown

By Gloria Romero

(From the Orange County Register, September 23, 2013)

For awhile there was hope. But that hope evaporated in the waning hours of the just-completed legislative cycle when Democratic leaders beholden to the power and influence of the California Teachers Association quickly resurrected a defeated measure, Assembly Bill 375, and hastily sent it to the governor for his signature.

AB375 was introduced, ostensibly, to respond to the public clamor over the burdensome process school districts face in trying to fire teachers suspected of egregious offenses against children. After defeating similar legislation the prior year, CTA joined with Assembly Education Chairwoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, to push the significantly weaker AB375 in the wake of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Miramonte Elementary sex abuse scandal, still unfolding in the state’s largest school district.

The bill flew through the Assembly despite strong opposition from school districts and education reformers. Then the improbable happened: The Senate Education Committee refused to pass the bill. Opponents remained vigilant, understanding that shenanigans usually occur during the waning hours of a legislative session. Sure enough, Democratic legislative leaders eager to stay on the good side of CTA forced the bill out of committee with lightning speed and greased its path to the governor’s desk.

Now, parents and education reformers are working overtime to implore Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until Oct. 13 to act on pending legislation, to veto AB375. While the bill contains minor improvements, overall, it actually is worse than current law.

Ironically, while the hastily amended Buchanan-CTA bill claims to simplify and shorten a cumbersome, badly broken teacher-dismissal process, it exacerbates the problem and makes it harder for districts to protect children.

Wesley Smith, Executive Director of the Association of California School Administrators, stated that “the problems created for school districts far outweigh any modest improvements contained in the bill. Because of… [its] timelines and procedural barriers … it may compel school districts to pay a teacher to leave for immoral or unprofessional conduct rather than move to dismissal. This protects the adults over our students’ safety.”

The maneuvering by Democratic leaders seeking to look out for the CTA rather than protecting children from sexual predators in the classroom should outrage every Californian. Not surprisingly, the bill accomplishes exactly what CTA set out to do when its lobbyists ghostwrote it: Protect union members at the expense of kids.

There are numerous problems with the bill, which:

• arbitrarily limits the number of children who can testify about a case of alleged abuse;

• prohibits a school district from amending a complaint. Victims, particularly kids, often do not step forward until it is “safe” to do so. AB375 plays on this by prohibiting the introduction of additional relevant testimony once the process has started. This could force districts to choose either to throw out their case and start over - running up costs in the process - or simply try to pay the accused predator to resign;

• includes another appeal process procedural layer to challenge immediate teacher suspensions on technicalities - a consideration never previously available, beyond the courts, for allegations of heinous behavior with a child;

• maintains a fixed timeline for concluding any case - incentivizing the accused to delay. Tucked into the CTA bill is a new standard that hearing officers would have to reach to allow additional time.

AB375 demonstrates the influence of power and money on legislators more intent on satisfying the powerful rather than protecting innocent children. Gov. Jerry Brown has until Oct. 13 to act on legislation before him. This bill deserves a veto.

Who will CA’s teacher dismissal reform serve?

This piece was originally posted by Watchdog.org

By Mary Tillotson*

In the wake of allegations of sex abuse of students by Los Angeles teachers, the California Legislature on last week passed a bill purporting to streamline the teacher dismissal process in cases of abuse.

Gov. Jerry Brown has 30 days to sign or veto the bill that was approved by lawmaker Sept. 12.

The bill, in fact, makes the process more cumbersome, said Gloria Romero, former California senator and state director of Democrats for Education Reform. Under the bill, the process for dismissing incompetent and abusive teachers is the same, and if additional families speak up about abuse after a case is open, the process must start from scratch. If the case isn’t finished in seven months, it’s dismissed, she said.

“Who is the law going to serve?” Romero said. “It could go either way. Am I writing it to protect teachers - that’s the current bill - or am I writing it to protect kids, who are victims of abuse? I’m going to lean on the side of protecting victims.”

Romero said the governor should not sign the bill, but might do so under pressure from the teachers unions, which supported the bill.

Los Angeles Unified School District released more than $27 million to settle claims of sexual abuse of students at Miramonte Elementary School, CBS Local reports. One of the accused teachers received a $40,000 payout to leave the school, the Los Angeles Times reports, because the district was hamstrung by a complex dismissal process.

*Guest blogs reflect the opinion or position of the blogger, not that of DFER or its affiliate entities.

DFER California Writes to Governor Brown

This week, DFER California sent letters to Governor Jerry Brown asking him to veto two bills: AB 484 and AB 375.

The first letter, sent in conjunction with Parent Revolution, Students First, Teach Plus and other organizations, urges Gov. Brown to veto AB 484 and "push for legislation that enables our state to transition to Common Core assessments without creating a black hole of information for teachers, parents, students and voters." Click here to see a PDF of the letter.

The second letter urges Gov. Brown to veto AB 375. In the letter, DFER-CA State Director Gloria Romero calls the bill a "watered-down and ineffective teacher discipline and dismissal bill that is not meritorious of signature." Click here to see a PDF of the letter.

List of Capitol shot-callers heavy with lobbyists, labor

By Gloria Romero

(From the Orange County Register, September 16, 2013)

Who really are California’s mighty and powerful - people with the financial might and personal connections to grease the wheels of government?

Capitol Weekly - a publication covering California government and politics - each year releases its Top 100 list. Undoubtedly, it is a subjective roster but it does provide insight into the flow of power at the Capitol. Compiled by Sacramento political insiders, the list always excludes elected officials. While methodological flaws abound, nonetheless, it is fun to peruse the list to glean the latest on “backroom” politics and the perception of power in California.

No sooner had the list been unveiled when griping began about who had been excluded, given that it’s considered an honor to make the list - and the closer to being No. 1, the better. It somewhat functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy: You lobby to get listed, and then - presto - you really are someone. Others in the Capitol recognize your power and start to treat you as someone powerful. Indeed, life under the dome operates in a bubble largely separate from the lives of most Californians.

This year’s list was bashed as being sexist because only 29 percent of the names were female. But Capitol Weekly quickly pointed out that that’s 5 percent higher than the share of women in the California Legislature. Furthermore, half of the top 10 are women.

Topping the list is Anne Gust Brown. Ms. Gust Brown is more than just “the first lady” and wife of Gov. Jerry Brown. She has the governor’s ear and is his most important special adviser. She actually shapes public policy. She exhibits savvy corporate experience and has never shied away from taking on politicians.

No, this is not a first lady who dotes on charity work and plans luncheons for the prominent women of California (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Some compare the Browns to another power couple - Hillary and Bill Clinton - but without any of the personal drama.

The 2013 list contains many holdovers from previous lists, but is heavier with lobbyists. Some predicted that a side effect of political term limits would be a shifting of power to the lobbyist corps, and this list appears to provide some validation of that concern.

Some always make the list - like the California Teachers Association. Joe Nunez, CTA political director, is No. 2. CTA remains the most powerful single interest group, with a political war chest annually exceeding $300 million. Most legislators - particularly Democrats - are scared to challenge the teachers union, largely accounting for the lack of progress on education reform in California. No budget is passed without CTA approval. The former state Senate president Don Perata once referred to a common perception that CTA is “the fourth co-equal branch of government.”

This year’s list underscores this power, although parent empowerment movements, seeking greater choice options in schooling and heightened teacher accountability metrics, are increasing. Civil-rights litigation is increasingly being filed to challenge statutes stifling educational progress for students.

The list includes labor leaders, legislative staffers and a handful of billionaires, including some who underwrote ballot initiatives on November’s ballot. Developers and political consultants generally round out the list.

To appreciate the upshot of the list, imagine the sound of a cash register opening: A thunderous “cha-ching” sound accompanies the listed names - largely, special interests that provide the grease for those dysfunctional wheels that just keep on churning in Sacramento.

Maybe 2014’s list will be different - but I doubt it.

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