Jim Porter: Judge rules teachers’ tenure, seniority unconstitutional
June 19, 2014
Talk about a fire-storm case. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge struck down tenure, seniority and other job protections for California's public school teachers ruling them unconstitutional.
The decision will probably foster similar lawsuits in other states.
NINE STUDENTS SUE
The case was filed by nine students claiming that hiring and firing and tenure laws have resulted in ineffective teachers, especially of minority and low-income students.
The lawsuit was financed by a Silicon Valley millionaire who hired a top-notch legal team, the same lawyers who defeated the California same-sex marriage ban.
The lawsuit claimed that incompetent teachers are so heavily protected by tenure laws that they're almost impossible to fire, and that schools in poor neighborhoods are used as dumping grounds for bad teachers.
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The judge accepted the students' arguments and struck down California teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal laws.
'SHOCKS THE CONSCIOUS'
In over two months of court testimony, evidence was offered that California teachers receive tenure in less than two years, which is less than almost every other state in the country.
Judge Rolf Treu cited the historic case of Brown v. Board of Education ruling that students have a fundamental right to an equal education. "Indeed, it shocks the conscious," Judge Treu wrote where he cited an expert's finding that a single year with a grossly ineffective teacher costs a student $50,000 in potential lifetime earnings.
The California Teachers' Association and the California Federation of Teachers vowed to appeal. This case will ultimately make it to the California if not U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition to the tenure laws, the Court also struck down California's last in, first out (LIFO) laws where the "last-hired teacher is the statutorily-mandated first-fired one when lay-offs occur."
As the Court wrote, "no matter how gifted the junior teacher, and no matter grossly ineffective the senior teacher, the junior gifted one, who all parties agree is creating a positive atmosphere for his/her students, is separated from them and a senior grossly ineffective one who all parties agree is harming the students entrusted to him/her is left in place … the logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable."
DISMISSAL LAWS GO
As to the challenges to teacher dismissal laws, the Court wrote: "Grossly ineffective teachers are being left in the classroom because school officials do not wish to go through the time and expense to investigate and prosecute these cases … dismissals are 'extremely rare' in California because administrators believe it to be 'impossible' to dismiss a tenured teacher under the current system."
Right or wrong, this judge bought the students' arguments hook, line and sinker.
The case will cause a reawakening of long-standing debates over teacher tenures and seniority hiring and firing.
This will not be the last we hear of Vergara v. State of California and the California Teachers Association, which at this stage is merely a trial court ruling.
If you would like a copy of the judge's Tentative Decision, send me an e-mail.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim's practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.
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