SACRAMENTO — In a rare defeat for teachers' unions, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill Thursday to make it easier for some principals to reject incompetent teachers.
The new law won't make it easier to fire public school teachers -- something the governor sought and failed to win with an initiative last November -- but it eliminates one escape route for teachers facing bad reviews.
SB 1655 by Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altadena) restricts future union contracts so that principals at the lowest-performing schools no longer have to give jobs to weak teachers transferring within the district. The measure will affect about 3,000 schools.
Currently, union contracts in many school districts, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno, require principals to accept teachers who seek transfers. And teachers often voluntarily transfer to a new school when they are faced with a negative evaluation.
The New York nonprofit group New Teacher Project found in a November 2005 study of five districts including San Diego Unified that administrators had little discretion in filling roughly 40% of their vacancies because of union rules. Researchers also found that poorly performing teachers were transferring from school to school.
"It's like saying to a football coach, we want you to have a winning record but you've got to take a quarterback who can't pass very well," Scott said.
He said he would consider carrying legislation next year to free principals at all schools, not just those with the worst academic rankings, from having to take part in what some call "the dance of the lemons."
During a bill-signing ceremony at John Muir High School in Pasadena, Schwarzenegger said, "In education, many times the battle is all about what is best for the adults, not what is best for the kids."
The powerful California Teachers Assn., United Teachers Los Angeles and California Federation of Teachers lobbied hard against the bill, saying it wrongly blames the union provision for the failure of certain schools.
"We think it's the wrong answer to a complex problem," said teachers association spokeswoman Sandra Jackson. "It wrongly identifies teacher transfer rules as the reason these schools cannot attract and retain quality teachers," she said.
The teachers association, a major donor to Democratic lawmakers, generally gets its way in the Legislature. Last year the union spent $60 million to defeat Schwarzenegger's special election initiatives, including one to extend from two to five years the time when a new teacher could be fired without explanation.
But Scott's bill won almost all Republican votes and a majority of Democratic votes, too: It passed 33 to 1 in the Senate and 59 to 12 in the Assembly.
"They all knew the problem and they all lined up and helped me," said Scott. "If collective bargaining has led to a poor quality education for kids, then I don't think collective bargaining is sacrosanct."
At the Pasadena school, Schwarzenegger also signed Scott's SB 1209, which offers a $6,000 bonus to veteran teachers willing to work as mentors in troubled schools. It also streamlines the state's credentialing process to make it easier for out-of-state teachers with two years' experience and good reviews to get jobs here.
Experts warn that California faces a teacher shortage as 100,000 teachers -- a third of the workforce -- are expected to retire over the next decade.
After signing Scott's bills, the governor said that he eventually wants public schools to disclose academic and financial information on the Internet so that parents can shop for schools the way they shop for cars and examine test scores, dropout rates and school budgets.
Said Schwarzenegger: "We are spending this year $55.1 billion on education.... We should also concentrate on are we really spending this money wisely."
In other action:
* For the third year in a row, Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill by Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) that would have allowed illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses.
The governor pushed the Legislature to repeal a similar law shortly after he was elected in 2003 and vetoed Cedillo's driver's license legislation in 2004 and 2005. Schwarzenegger called it inappropriate to enact such a law until the federal government releases rules carrying out the Real ID Act. That sweeping law, passed in May 2005, will require most states to change the information they include on driver's licenses, the documents they require to issue a license and how they store driver's license data.
* The governor vetoed a bill sponsored by his Democratic rival, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, that would have used surplus state property to generate up to $2 billion over the next decade to fund college scholarships.
In vetoing AB 2578 by Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Glendale), Schwarzenegger said voters in 2004 passed an initiative that directs the revenue from surplus state property sales to bond debt repayment. The governor vetoed a similar bill last year.
* Schwarzenegger also vetoed a bill that would have reduced the average amount of water used by toilets installed starting in 2009. Explaining his veto of AB 2496 by Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), Schwarzenegger said the low-flush technology warrants further testing before it is put into widespread use.