…but not together.
By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer, LA Daily News |http://bit.ly/UHJvnn
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. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
1/12/2013 03:12:00 PM PST :: A year after the Miramonte sex-abuse scandal sparked a flood of teacher misconduct complaints, a Los Angeles Unified board member and the teachers' union president have launched separate efforts to devise a more efficient system for investigating allegations.
Currently, 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 work or fired.
Board member Tamar Galatzan, who is also a city prosecutor, said she believes there are ways to make the process quicker and more fair, and she's directed her staff to analyze the system in search of bottlenecks.
"I'm concerned about the length of time an investigation takes and how it's done -- who is responsible for the investigation at every stage?" said Galatzan, who represents the west San Fernando Valley.
"Right now, my staff and I are working with several different offices within the district, trying to figure out which policies and procedures are mandated by the state, which are union rules, and which are just LAUSD practice."
She said she hopes to work with leaders of the teachers and administrators unions on a plan that she could bring to the school board this spring.
A state audit launched after last year's Miramonte scandal also recommended the district revamp its procedures for investigating housed teachers. In a review of district records, auditors found instances where misconduct investigations stalled for months while employees to continued to receive their pay.
As of Friday, 292 employees were housed, roughly the same number as the last several months. Their salaries total about $1.4 million a month, with $865,000 needed to pay substitutes to fulfill their classroom duties.
Warren Fletcher, head of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he has concerns about the equitable treatment of housed teachers, and plans to formally seek negotiations on the issue.
"There are different sets of rules for each of the (district offices)," Fletcher said.
"If they are at one office, they can bring their laptop or work on a PowerPoint presentation for their class. If they're at another, they can't bring their laptop, and if they do so they'll be written up for another alleged act of misconduct.
"It's not logical," he said.
Fletcher said he wants to talk with district officials about changing the process so that misconduct allegations are reviewed by an independent investigator.
In addition, he plans to seek demographic information about housed teachers, based on what he called "anecdotal reports" that many of those being investigated are nearing retirement age.
"If any class of member is being singled out, we need to be on top of that while working to ensure that there is a thorough and timely investigation."
District officials have vehemently denied targeting individuals by age.
Human Resources Director Vivian Ekchian said she welcomes suggestions of ways to reform the system, although she expressed concerns that cutting corners could jeopardize an investigation.
"If we're not diligent, there could be issues of people jumping to conclusions and jeopardizing careers," she said.
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