State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) is proposing a package of three bills that could measure teacher performance, streamline discipline and dismissal procedures for teachers and require reporting on suspected child abuse by school personnel.
Buchanan, formerly a school board member in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District for 18 years, is now chair of the State Assembly's Education Committee.
The assemblywoman caught flack last year when she voted against a bill that could have let school districts fire teachers who commit sexual or drug-related acts with children.
Buchanan has defended herself regarding her vote. She explained that the bill was flawed, and said districts already have ways of ousting an employee involved in physical, sexual or drug-related child abuse.
In the proposed legislation, Buchanan says teacher performance should be measured, but not by test scores alone. Buchanan told a group of Pleasanton educators last week that teacher performance should be judged by "multiple measures," including formal and informal evaluations as well as student performance.
"If you're a teacher, you give a test not only for a grade, but to see what students have learned," she told the group last week.
Buchanan said teachers need time to work with other teachers, too.
Regarding discipline and dismissal procedures, Buchanan told the group, "It just takes too long and costs too much money."
"The focus of our bill is going to be cleaning up the part of the statute that needs cleaning," she said. "You want to preserve the intent, but you want to update it."
Buchanan said that includes reducing the appeals process from a year and a half to six to seven months.
In child abuse cases, she pointed to two school districts, Miramonte and Moraga. In Miramonte, third-grade teacher Mark Berndt was charged with committing lewd acts on 23 boys and girls, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010, despite complaints that date to two decades ago. No complaint was filed by that school's principal.
The Moraga school district is being sued by former student Kristen Cunnane, who claims two middle school teachers sexually abused her in the 1990s. Again, Buchanan said, the principal filed no complaint.
Buchanan said districts will be required to have a policy regarding mandated reporting, make sure all personnel are aware of the requirement, and will have to review the policy every year.
"It's the right thing to do," said Bill Faraghan, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Pleasanton school district. "It's hard to understand that it hasn't been required."
Buchanan also discussed Gov. Brown's proposal to give poorer school districts in California more money.
"It's hard to go from a convoluted formula to a straightforward one on one sweep," she said. "The problem is that every one of the districts has been cut by 21 to 23%. It's going to be hard to put into place next year. Whatever we do, it's going to change education for the future."
Buchanan has also co-authored legislation that would require districts to inform voters if they want to use an interest-only bond. Those bonds, known as Capital Appreciation Bonds, became a hot-button issue recently when it was discovered that a $105 million CAP issued in Poway will cost the district nearly $1 billion to repay.
A day after her meeting with school officials, Buchanan and State Controller John Chiang met in Pleasanton with officials from the Contra Costa Council to talk about the state budget.
"Today we have slow growth but a better economy," Chiang told the group.
Buchanan noted that young people now have more student loan debt than credit card debt.
"My concern is what is the engine of growth? My belief is it's education," she said. "If we don't have a more educated workforce, we're going to be in real trouble."
Buchanan noted that future manufacturing may move back to the U.S., and that manufacturing will require more educated employees to operate sophisticated equipment.
Chiang said Proposition 30, the voter-approved tax increase, with money targeted for schools, will stabilize things, but only for the next seven years.
"Then, we're going to lose $6 billion," he said, adding that could mean California becoming insolvent. Chiang added that California has already dropped from 47th to 49th in per-pupil spending.
In terms of revenue, Buchanan said California "seems to be a state that rides a bubble, each bubble as it comes along." She pointed to the savings and loan bubble, the dot-com bubble and the real estate bubble as examples.
The good times, she said, meant the state could offer better pensions to workers, which led to the problems with CalPERS, the California Public Employees' Retirement System, and CalSTRS, the California State Teachers' Retirement System.
While she's pushing for pension reform, she said courts have ruled that the state cannot renege on promises made to employees.
"We need to come up with a plan that will raise these funds up over time," she said.