LOS ANGELES – A judge plans to announce a decision Tuesday that could be a game changer for California teachers whose job security is on the line.
Attorneys said the anxiously awaited ruling from Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu could have a wide ranging effect in California. Other states tackling the issue are also paying close attention to how the case plays out in the nation's most populous state.
One issue at the center of the lawsuit is whether bad teachers should be so heavily protected by tenure laws that they are almost impossible to fire. The lawsuit is asking the courts strike down as unconstitutional several laws providing teachers with tenure, seniority-based job protection and other benefits.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy testified during the trial that it can take over two years on average to fire a tenured incompetent teacher and sometimes as long as 10. The cost of doing so, he said, can run anywhere from $250,000 to $450,000.
Treu heard two months of testimony for and against the lawsuit filed by students who claim that they are being deprived of a good education. The plaintiffs say that the state's teacher tenure system, which allows only two years for evaluation before a teacher is hired permanently, does not provide sufficient time to weigh a teacher's effectiveness.
The trial represented the latest battle in a nationwide movement to abolish or toughen the standards for granting teachers permanent employment protection and seniority-based preferences during layoffs. Dozens of states have moved in recent years to get rid of or raise the standards for obtaining such protections.
Lawyers for teachers object to changes that they say will allow the firing of teachers on a whim. They argue the current system preserves academic freedom and helps attract talented teachers to a profession that doesn't pay well.
The lawsuit, Vergara v. California, was brought by Beatriz Vergara and eight other students who said they were saddled with teachers who let classrooms get out of control, came to school unprepared and in some cases told them they'd never make anything of themselves.
"This is a piece of a national debate and legal policy battle," said plaintiffs' attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. "It's being watched around the country."
James Finberg, who represents the teachers, agrees that Treu's decision could be a bellwether for other states. With 325,000 teachers and 6 million students, California has one of the largest educational networks in the country.