SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday vetoed what he termed an “imperfect” union-backed bill intended to streamline the dismissal of teachers accused of misconduct, calling on lawmakers to try again next year.
The bill, AB375 by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, was approved by lawmakers a year after a more stringent measure died in the state Assembly after opposition by the state’s main teachers union.
Both measures responded to last year’s arrest of a Los Angeles elementary school teacher who was charged with nearly two-dozen counts of engaging in lewd conduct with students, including allegations that he blindfolded his students and fed them his semen in what he described as a tasting game.
Former Miramonte third-grade teacher Mark Berndt pleaded not guilty. The Los Angeles Unified School District fired him but then paid him $40,000 to drop his appeal of the dismissal.
Parents of some of the children in his classes over the years have filed lawsuits against the Los Angeles Unified School District, claiming Miramonte and district administrators ignored complaints about improper behavior by Berndt dating back more than a decade. One such lawsuit, filed in July 2012, says the district had a continuing “culture of silence” regarding teacher misconduct.
The measure was among several education bills signed or vetoed by the governor as he works toward a Sunday deadline for acting on legislation sent to him by lawmakers last month.
He signed bills to discourage school violence and cyberbullying by students. Another responded to the Penn State child molestation scandal that adds private schools to the list of those requiring background checks for employees who work with minors.
Brown applauded some of the proposed changes in Buchanan’s bill, including provisions that would let school districts file disciplinary complaints during summer recesses and eliminate some other hurdles that can delay discipline and dismissals. But he said in a veto message that other portions of the bill, which was supported by the California Teachers Association, “make the process too rigid and could create new problems.”
Provisions that would limit testimony in disciplinary hearings and prevent school districts from amending complaints based on new evidence “may do more harm than good,” he said. He called the latest attempt “an imperfect solution” that needs more work to produce a balanced but simplified disciplinary process.
Buchanan said in a statement that the bill was the product of exhaustive negotiation and her own 18 years of experience on school boards. The bill, she said, would have created a fair and efficient process while reducing the cost and time required for dismissal hearings.
But the bipartisan education reform organization StudentsFirst California issued a statement calling her legislation “a poor, rushed attempt” that would have made it more complicated to dismiss teachers accused of abusing children. Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, termed it “an underhanded attempt to protect even the worst abusers from being held accountable when they prey on our students.”
California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel said in a statement that the measure “presented a great opportunity to take a big step in streamlining the dismissal process to keep students safe, safeguard the integrity of the profession and protect the rights of educators.” He promised to keep working with lawmakers on the issue.
Among education bills signed into law by the governor:
– AB256, by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, lets superintendents and school principals discipline students who engage in cyberbullying, using computers, smartphones and social media to intimidate or harass others on or off the school campus.
– AB389, by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, requires fingerprint background checks for private school employees who work with minors.
– AB514, by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, requires the California Department of Education to include on its website a list of resources for children affected by gangs, guns and psychological trauma caused by violence.
– AB955 by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, allows community colleges to offer additional courses at higher prices during short summer and winter sessions. Students would be charged the nonresident rate of $200 per unit, compared with $46 for state-subsidized credits during traditional semesters.