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Op-Ed: Questions of tenure, union's role

April 28, 2012|By Andrew Blumenfeld

Mandy Redfern, president of the LCUSD teachers' union, recently derided efforts to reform teacher tenure, suggesting tenure was far from “the problem” (“Blaming teachers union is wrong tactic,” op-ed, April 22).

She minimizes both the laboriousness of the process and the role of the union.

It has been suggested that tenure is simply notice of underperformance, opportunity to improve and proper documentation. In reality, tenure represents a mortal lock over one's job and can cause unintended damage to students.

When a school district wants to dismiss a tenured teacher, he/she is entitled to a third-party panel hearing that is stacked against districts. In California, the vast majority of cases that make it to the panel arise from gross misconduct — like sexual abuse — and even though only the strongest cases are pursued, over a third are unsuccessful. Since 1997, only 20% of upheld dismissals had to do with the quality of teaching.

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This process is lengthy — never less than one year, and usually multiple. It costs districts thousands of dollars — that's before incurring legal fees if the district chooses to pursue dismissal (where costs move into six figures).

Meanwhile, classroom after classroom of students suffer.

However, despite these challenges, we must shoulder the burdens and put resources toward the pursuit of this process. Both the district and the union must work through this archaic process in good faith to best serve students.

The idea that “the union will make sure that due process rights are followed and that [teachers] are not let go for frivolous or inappropriate reasons” belies the reality of unions' behavior and ignores the toll it takes on our community and students.

Take the Los Angeles Unified School District teacher whose departure was negotiated when it surfaced he sexually abused elementary students. Though law enforcement charged him with 23 counts of lewd conduct (of which there are 600 photos), the LAUSD school board feared they would not have immediate access to police documents and opted to pay a $40,000 settlement, rather than pursue the laborious, expensive and uncertain process of dismissing a tenured teacher — a process “facilitated” by the union.

Despite independent investigations confirming misconduct, the La Cañada teachers union “facilitated” that process in a highly publicized case this year.

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