By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer LA Newspaper Group/LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/Twkdb2
Students are escorted to a waiting bus as they leave Miramonte Elementary school after classes Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012 in Los Angeles. Veteran Miramonte Elementary school teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested Monday, Jan. 30, on charges of lewd conduct with 23 children after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces. Berndt remained jailed Tuesday on $2.3 million bail. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
State Auditor: LAUSD SLOW TO REPORT ON TEACHER MISCONDUCT: Audit finds the school district failed to promptly in... http://bit.ly/1178B4l
CALIFORNIA STATE AUDIT FAULTS L.A. UNIFIED’S ABUSE REPORTING + Audit Report: By CHRISTINA HOAG Associated Press,... http://bit.ly/11lbUnN
11/29/2012 08:16:50 PM PST Updated: 11/29/2012 09:27:29 PM PST :: Systematic problems within Los Angeles Unified resulted in its failure to report teacher misconduct to the state credentialing agency and costly delays in investigating and disciplining abusive teachers, according to a state audit released Thursday.
Triggered by the Miramonte sex-abuse scandal, the eight-month review by state Auditor Elaine Howle identified serious lapses in LAUSD procedures, and makes four recommendations for improvement.
Superintendent John Deasy said the district already has addressed most of the deficiencies outlined in the 57-page report.
"The audit captured accurately what the district has done in terms of improvement and where the district was," he said.
The audit was ordered in March by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, after allegations that LAUSD had mishandled sexual-abuse cases involving teachers at Miramonte Elementary in South L.A. and Telfair Elementary in Pacoima.
Auditors visited those two campuses and four others as part of their review. They also interviewed district and state officials and pored through records, including the 600 personnel files sent to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
They found that the district had failed to alert the CTC that it had disciplined or fired 144 teachers, some for misconduct involving students. Of those cases, 31 were more than 3 years old, which officials said made it impossible to determine whether to revoke the teachers' credentials and prevent them from working in other districts.
The California State Auditor issued four recommendations as part of an eight-month review of Los Angeles Unified's handling of child-abuse allegations:
• LAUSD should comply with state requirements for submitting cases to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, including the timely reporting of teachers who retire, are fired or who are suspended or placed on unpaid leave for more than 10 days. The district should refrain from filing cases before they meet reporting guidelines.
• The Legislature should create a system for tracking misconduct cases involving classified employees such as clerical, janitorial or cafeteria workers, to ensure they are not hired by other districts.
• LAUSD should increase its oversight in investigating and disciplining misconduct cases to prevent unnecessary delays.
• LAUSD should track settlements paid to resolve employee dismissal actions.
In his formal response to the audit, Deasy said the district has created dual tracking systems to ensure that reporting rules will be followed.
"We've changed the internal structure to ensure that no case could not be reported," he said during a morning briefing with reporters.
Deasy also said the district is working to expedite the investigation and disciplinary process, which also came under fire by state auditors.
"We want to improve the time it takes to do investigations," he said. "It should be as short as possible but as thorough as possible."
Teachers suspected of physical or verbal abuse or harassment are pulled from the classroom and "housed" in an administrative office, collecting their pay until they're either returned to the classroom or fired. | Read "LAUSD 'jails' fill with teachers as misconduct complaints rise"
While the average stay for a housed teacher is six months, auditors found instances where investigations stalled for months at a time. The report cites one case in which there was an eight-month delay in disciplining a teacher because the principal had trouble writing up the supporting memo.
Auditors also reviewed district records and found that 111 teachers and administrators were housed in 2011-12 for an average of 200 working days, collecting more than $4.2 million in wages.
The Daily News reported Wednesday that about 300 educators are now being housed, including 54 who are on unpaid leave. The remaining teachers are collecting an estimated $1.4 million a month in salary while district and law-enforcement investigations proceed.
Late Thursday, LAUSD officials released figures showing the district paid nearly $11 million in salary and benefits in 2011-12 to substitute teachers covering for housed employees. The costs top $5.7 million for the current fiscal year that began July 1.
The report found that because the process of firing a teacher can take years and be expensive - Deasy estimated $300,000 - the district may be more likely to pay an employee to retire instead of pursuing dismissal.
Of 61 settlements reviewed by auditors, 47 involved misconduct with a student, with payouts totaling more than $2 million.
Nevertheless, district officials say they fired 92 teachers last year for inappropriate conduct and six during the current school year.
Deasy said the school board will be advocating efforts to change state law to make it easier to fire teachers, especially in cases of sexual misconduct. A teacher dismissal bill by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, was defeated earlier this year.
In a phone interview from Sacramento, Padilla said he hoped to re-introduce the bill during the upcoming session, adding that the state report reaffirms the need for an expedited dismissal process.
"This is what we've been hearing from districts throughout the state - not just Los Angeles Unified," he said. "It adds weight and urgency to our argument."
Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said the union concurs with Los Angeles Unified's goal of keeping students safe but believes the district has over-reacted in response to Miramonte.
"The pendulum swings between reporting nothing and reporting and suspecting everything. There is a middle ground," he said.
"We have to be serious about how we investigate and what we investigate ... It's more important to be vigilant than to look vigilant."
State Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, the South Gate Democrat who requested the audit, said the first-of-its-kind report provided "a good snapshot of what needed to be improved and how."
He said he plans to create a working group of district and law enforcement officials to discuss ways to improve the investigatory process.
He also wants to work on legislation to address the audit's recommendation for a statewide tracking system of dismissed support staff, like custodians and clerical workers, to prevent them from being rehired by other districts.
He's already been in contact with school board President Monica Garcia, who said the district has learned from the Miramonte crisis.
"Where we are weak, we have to strengthen it," Garcia said. "We have to do what we said we're going to do and check what we say we're going to check.
"There have been difficult situations that have been met with a strong focused response," she added. "There are issues that we have to continue working on. We have to keep moving forward."
Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima, Calif., photographed on Tuesday, March 6, 2012. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)LAUSD: Superintendent John Deasy responds to the draft audit on the district's handling of child abuse alle... LAUSD Fact Sheet: Efforts to Enhance Student Safety and Misconduct Reporting
By Kathryn Baron and John Fensterwald, EdSource Today | http://bit.ly/U6mvN3
November 30th, 2012 :: California teachers who lose their jobs for misconduct against students lose their licenses to teach, but the state has no similar process for the other 289,000 school employees who are fired or forced to resign due to child abuse. There’s no mechanism for sharing the information on “classified” employees; as a result, other districts and childcare centers may hire a new bus driver, classroom or special education aide or cafeteria worker without knowing why the person left their last job.
This disquieting revelation about abuse by school employees who aren’t teachers was disclosed yesterday within the 68-page report from the State Auditor highly critical of Los Angeles Unified School District over how it mishandled years of sex abuse cases involving teachers.
The audit was triggered by the sensational story that surfaced earlier this year over the district’s failure to take action against two male teachers at Miramonte Elementary School, despite suspicions that they were sexually abusing students. In the case of 5th grade teacher Mark Brendt, who’s facing 23 counts of lewd conduct, suspicions of misconduct had been around for years.In the wake of his arrest, and other cases, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee asked the State Auditor to investigate how LAUSD handled allegations of employee abuse against students.
Auditor’s 4 recommendations
- To ensure that the commission is made aware of certificated employees who need to be reviewed to determine whether the employees’ teaching credentials should be suspended or revoked, the district should adhere to state requirements for reporting cases to the commission.
- The Legislature should consider establishing a mechanism to monitor classified employees who have separated from a school district by dismissal, resignation, or settlement during the course of an investigation for misconduct involving students, similar to the oversight provided by the commission for certificated employees. If such a mechanism existed, school districts throughout the State could be notified before hiring these classified employees.
- To ensure that investigations proceed in a timely manner and that the district disciplines employees promptly, the district should increase its oversight of open allegations of employee abuse against students.
- To ensure that it does not duplicate efforts and that its information is complete, the district should identify one division to maintain a districtwide tracking mechanism for settlements that includes the total amounts paid and descriptions of the misconduct.
The report, Los Angeles Unified School District: It could do more to improve its handling of child abuse allegations, doesn’t cite cases in which classified workers who were fired for suspected sex abuse or left under a cloud were subsequently hired by an unaware district, although the lack of central record keeping creates that potential.
Encouraging the Legislature to create a system that tracks classified employees charged with misconduct involving students, as the Commission on Teacher Credentialing does for teachers, is one of four recommendations in the report.
“If such a mechanism existed, school districts throughout the State could be notified before hiring these classified employees,” wrote State Auditor Elaine Howle.
Under state law, hourly or “classified” workers at a school district have fewer due process rights. Efforts to dismiss them for misconduct take less time, and generally are less expensive than dismissals of teachers and administrators. The school board has final say for classified workers. Teachers can take an appeal to an outside authority, the Commission on Professional Competence. Source: California State Auditor (click to enlarge).
Classified employees don’t have the same due process rights as teachers facing charges of misconduct. The process of dismissal is quicker, with fewer steps, and is therefore less costly, leading some critics of the appeals process for teachers to call for a uniform system for all school employees.
As with teachers, in most cases classified employees charged with misconduct involving a student will be suspended with pay and have the right to a hearing. But the local school board has the final say over whether to dismiss classified staff, a process that takes at most four months. Teachers can appeal decisions to a quasi-judicial Commission of Professional Competence, often extending the process up to 18 months, during which they continue to be paid. That’s costing LA Unified $1.4 million a month in salaries for those teachers, according to the LA Daily News. The district said yesterday it spent an additional $11 million last year to pay substitute teachers to fill in for the suspended teachers. LAUSD paid former Miramonte teacher Berndt $40,000 not to contest his dismissal.
The audit found that the district’s handling of Berndt’s case wasn’t an anomaly. LAUSD was at least one year late in submitting more than 144 cases to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, including 31 cases that languished for three years before being reported. The district couldn’t say why this happened.
Being late creates damage beyond the financial burden on the district and limbo for the accused teachers. The statute of limitations on these abuse cases is four years, so delays could prevent the Commission from revoking certification from a teacher who might be guilty of the accusations.
Superintendent John Deasy acknowledged the problems in a six-page letter to Howle responding to the audit. “We gladly and respectfully accept all of the recommendations presented in this audit,” wrote Deasy. He then described the policy and structural changes made by the district over the past year that led the district to submit about 600 cases in a period of three months to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Among those were the 144 late filings, about 100 duplicates of reports that had already been sent in and, according to the audit, “many not requiring reporting” that “caused a significant needless increase in workload for the commission.”
Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), said that action illustrates the district’s overreaction to handling abuse charges in the aftermath of Miramonte. “Every time the district overreacts it diverts resources that should have been used to investigate serious misconduct,” said Fletcher in a statement released Thursday. “From accuse no one to accuse everyone. Neither of them makes sense.”
Although it wasn’t recommended by the auditor, Deasy wants the Legislature to try again to pass a bill making it easier to suspend teachers accused of child abuse. After a bruising battle, the state Assembly defeated a similar bill last year. SB 1530 by Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat from the San Fernando Valley, would have made it easier to suspend a teacher facing “serious and egregious” charges without pay. It also would have replaced an appeals board with an administrative judge whose opinions would have been advisory to the school board. LAUSD said it is working with Sen. Padilla on that legislation.
UTLA opposed last year’s bill, but Fletcher wouldn’t say what position the union would take on a new version. However, he did indicate what they’re looking for from the district. “Being a teacher is a sacred trust. Teachers above all want to make sure that anyone who has violated that trust is gone,” he said. “But we are not going to accomplish that by scatter shot approaches and smearing innocent people’s names.”