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GOP lawmakers take aim at teachers accused of sexual misconduct

They join Villaraigosa and L.A.'s school board in seeking swift dismissal, along with loss of benefits and pensions.

March 14, 2012|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Recent reports of child-molestation charges and other misconduct involving teachers has sparked Republican lawmakers, the Los Angeles Board of Education and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to seek the swifter firing of teachers accused of sexual misconduct.
Recent reports of child-molestation charges and other misconduct involving… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Republican lawmakers have joined with the Los Angeles Board of Education and the mayor to seek the swifter firing of teachers accused of sexual misconduct.

They also want to strip retiree health benefits and state pensions from school employees convicted of sex-related crimes against students.

Those moves would require changes to state law that were included in proposals announced Tuesday by the Republican legislative leadership. The school board's resolution, approved Tuesday, matches closely, as do proposed laws sought by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat.

In a separate move, the school board ordered its staff to develop rules for notifying parents about problem teachers, among other provisions.

Both resolutions passed unanimously. They were co-sponsored by board president Monica Garcia and board members Tamar Galatzan and Nury Martinez.

The actions come in the wake of the January arrest of former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct. He's accused of photographing blindfolded students being spoon-fed his semen as part of what he allegedly called a "tasting game."

"The unspeakable crimes that Miramonte students were victims of must never happen again," state Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) said in a statement. "This is why it is so important that we come together, Republicans and Democrats alike."

The changes also include giving the Board of Education final authority over dismissals, rather than the current system in which an outside panel made up of two teachers and an administrative law judge can reverse the decision if a teacher appeals.

"We hire and supervise but cannot dismiss a teacher," said Galatzan.

With his case pending, Berndt agreed to resign and received $40,000 for back pay and health insurance costs. He also gets a state pension of nearly $4,000 a month and lifetime health benefits earned by his long service with the Los Angeles Unified School District

"We end up paying these people to go away … because it is cheaper" than the long legal process, Galatzan said.

The district has sought such changes before, as has Republican Senate Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar. In the past, union leaders and others argued that these proposals exploit rare bad incidents to undermine valuable employee protections.

The L.A. teachers union did not oppose the measures outright, but its president, Warren Fletcher, said the underlying issues are the district's inadequate supervision of schools and its failure to make proper use of existing rules that address teacher misconduct.

If some provisions of state law need adjustment, Fletcher said, he would defer to the state teachers unions.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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