Wednesday, December 18, 2013


California measure would replace seniority with performance for teacher layoffs

By Laurel Rosenhall The Sacramento Bee


Michelle Rhee Kevin Johnson/Hector Amezcua / Sac Bee

18 Dec 2014  ::  A ballot measure submitted by a political consultant for education advocate Michelle Rhee seeks to remove seniority as a factor when California school districts lay off teachers, requiring instead that decisions be based on performance and student test scores.

That approach has been at the core of Rhee’s advocacy efforts as head of StudentsFirst, a national group headquartered in Sacramento. Rhee, who is married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, has said she established the group to try to counter the influence that teachers unions have in decisions about public education. Unions generally reject the idea that teachers should be rated based on their students’ test scores, and prefer contracts that call for the most recently hired teachers to be the first let go during layoffs.

The proposed initiative was submitted Monday by Matt David, a political consultant to StudentsFirst. David, former communications director to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said he submitted the measure on his own behalf and that StudentsFirst has not yet endorsed it.

“I would hope to get their support on this, assuming the language isn’t changed (by the attorney general),” David said. “But they haven’t taken a position yet, and I’ve advised other groups not to take a position until we get the language finalized.”

StudentsFirst spokesman Francisco Castillo said the group has been in talks about advancing a ballot measure in California next year but hasn’t yet decided if this will be it.

“We’re currently reviewing the language for this one, and we generally support the concepts behind it, but it’s premature to say whether we will take a position on it right now,” Castillo said.

The proposal for California’s 2014 ballot must receive a title and summary from the attorney general’s office before proponents can begin gathering signatures from the public to qualify it for the ballot.

The measure also would streamline the firing procedures for teachers convicted of sex crimes, setting up a possible conflict with another ballot measure recently proposed by an advocacy group called EdVoice, which generally shares StudentsFirst’s anti-union approach to education.

Both groups support the expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but run independently from the school boards that govern traditional schools. Teachers at charter schools generally are not union members, making them a common target of union animosity.

Two more proposed initiatives that seek new restrictions on charter schools set the stage for a ballot box faceoff between teacher unions and groups that think they hold too much sway in the education system.

Thomas Willis, a Bay Area lawyer, has filed two versions of an initiative that would subject charter schools to California’s open meeting and public records laws and require charter school leaders to follow the state’s conflict of interest laws and submit statements of economic interest. It would prohibit for-profit companies from running charter schools and create new procedures for charters to engage in financial transactions.

Willis also filed a ballot measure that alleges some charter schools use “low-paid interns in place of fully credentialed teachers.” It would forbid teacher interns from working in the lowest-performing schools and require that “superintendents, principals and similar administrators” at charter schools whose test scores are in the bottom 30 percent statewide hold a teaching or administrative credential.

Willis referred The Bee’s calls about the initiatives to Gale Kaufman, political consultant to the California Teachers Association. Kaufman was not available on Tuesday. The union’s spokeswoman, Claudia Briggs, said CTA is examining the initiatives and will form its strategy in the new year.

“It is certainly disappointing to see both EdVoice and StudentsFirst submit for the ballot two tremendously destructive as well as clearly politically charged initiatives to draw the education community into an unnecessary and costly initiative election that’s not good for students or any of us,” Briggs said in an email.

StudentsFirst has been active in several states but has made little headway so far in California, where public employee unions hold big clout in the state Capitol. The organization recently hired labor lobbyist Jovan Agee, who previously represented the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, to head up its California operation.

StudentsFirst pushed for a bill to add student test scores to teachers’ performance evaluations earlier this year, but Senate Bill 441 died in its first committee.

The bill was carried by Sen. Ron Calderon, the Montebello Democrat whose office was raided this summer by the FBI. A sealed FBI affidavit made public by Al-Jazeera America alleges that Calderon accepted $88,000 in bribes from a hospital executive and an undercover agent posing as a movie studio owner.

In 2012, StudentsFirst pitched a bill in California that sought to remove seniority as a factor in teacher layoff procedures, instead basing layoffs largely on job performance, according to a confidential draft The Bee obtained last year. The bill also would have changed the teacher evaluation system so that at least half the ratings were based on student test scores.

Calderon’s brother, Charles Calderon, who was an assemblyman at the time, said he was interested in introducing the bill, but ran out of time during the 2012 session.

StudentsFirst poured more than $1 million into legislative races in 2012, including support for Ian Calderon – the son of Charles Calderon and nephew of Ron Calderon – as well as Assembly candidates Cheryl Brown and Brian Johnson. All are Democrats who faced opponents backed by the California Teachers Association.

Ian Calderon and Brown won their races and now serve in the state Assembly.

Possible 2014 ballot fight over firing teachers, looser tenure rules

By John Myers,News10/KXTV (Sacramento

12:09 AM, Dec 18, 2013   ::  After two years of bitter legislative fights over whether it's too hard to fire bad teachers in California, the debate could be headed to next November's statewide ballot.

Two separate initiatives have been filed to change the existing system for reprimanding or removing teachers, the most recent on Monday. Both appear inspired by the 2012 case of a Los Angeles area elementary school teacher who was sentenced last month to 25 years in prison for lewd acts against students over a six year period -- actions which, even when reported, failed to cost him his job.

"It's a broken and bureaucratic process," said Matt David, the political operative who filed the latest initiative.  David, a former top aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has recently worked as a consultant to education activist (and wife of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson) Michelle Rhee.

David said that neither Rhee nor other critics of the current teacher employment process have officially signed on to the measure, only that a "broad coalition" is looking at the issue.

The push for loosening the dismissal process for teachers gained national exposure last year, after a handful of Assembly Democrats abstained on a committee vote that doomed legislation by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima.  This year, a more toned down attempt -- Assembly Bill 375 by Asm. Joan Buchanan, D-Contra Costa County -- was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who wrote that it was a well-intentioned but "imperfect" proposal.

The two proposed initiatives both would make it easier to fire a teacher involved in serious or violent crimes.  The simplest of the two was filed in October by leaders of the nonprofit group EdVoice.  The organization's CEO, Bill Lucia, was unavailable for comment on Tuesday, but was recently quoted as saying the initiative would draw a "bright line" of punishment for the worst actions.

The newest initiative, though, goes much further by also abolishing much of the existing rules pertaining to teacher tenure. Proponent David says the measure would protect "great teachers," even if they are the newest arrivals.  The initiative would create a new performance standard to determine which teachers stay, and which ones go, in the event of layoffs.

That would line up with the stated goals of the nonproifit run by Michelle Rhee and advised by David, StudentsFirst.

California adopted teacher tenure as a law in 1921, the first state in the nation to do so.  The most recent electoral showdown over the law came in 2005 with Proposition 74, one of a package of government changes promoted by Gov. Schwarzenegger in a special election.

All four initiatives were rejected by voters in a campaign whose opposition was led by the powerful California Teachers Association.  CTA spokeswoman Claudia Briggs said Tuesday that the union hasn't yet closely reviewed either of the new initiatives, and therefore hasn't taken a position.

But it was CTA pressure that helped kill the first legislative effort to change the teacher firing law in 2012, and some believe a 2014 initiative fight could test the public image of the union.

"I think the people that may be trying to advance these types of initiatives also see a political opportunity: to put the teachers union on the wrong side of the voters," said GOP strategist Rob Stutzman.

Stutzman, who worked for Schwarzenegger during the failed 2005 effort, said the initiatives may also serve a more partisan political purpose -- to draw down CTA cash that would otherwise go to Democratic candidates in 2014.

"This would be, if this went to the ballot," said Stutzman, "tens of millions if not over $100 million spent by the teachers' union to try to stop it."

John Myers is News10's political editor.  Check out his Twitter feed on California politics, his Facebook page, and the weekly News10 Capitol Connection politics podcast.

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