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Oakland Unified School District Director of Labor Strategy Troy Christmas Testifies About Harms Caused by Dismissal Statutes

Troy Christmas: There are many reasons why the Oakland Unified School District has been unable to dismiss ineffective teachers. “[P]rincipal among those reasons are the difficulty and expense of the processes involved. Chief among those processes is dismissal under these statutes.”

The education equality trial, Vergara v. California, completed its fifth day today with testimony from Troy Christmas, Director of Labor Strategy for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). During his testimony, Mr. Christmas addressed the significant resources that OUSD must divert away from the education of its students to dismiss just one ineffective teacher.

Testimony by Troy Christmas
Plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel, Marcellus A. McRae, asked Mr. Christmas multiple questions about the process to dismiss an ineffective teacher in OUSD. In response, Mr. Christmas provided an overview of the long and costly dismissal process, including the exorbitant expenditure of resources and the harmful impact on students associated with this process:
“I probably group [the costs] into three [groups]: the first would be the direct costs, so now we’re talking prep costs with attorneys, we’re talking full discovery, we’re talking 250 interrogatories, we’re talking interview with witnesses, witness prep, depositions, extensive attorney time associated with that, extensive time of staff associated with that…
“And then you would have opportunity costs, which essentially are the costs of doing one thing instead of doing another. And so you have administrators who are taken from their day jobs trying to run schools who need to be interviewed, need to be prepped, need to have depositions taken… You have the opportunity costs of your legal team in terms of their time. You have teachers, you have parents, you have students all who would be doing something else presumably if they weren’t preparing for or participating in the hearing.
“And then the third I would call sort of the costs to the learning environment. What happens at a school site in certain cases when you’re asking third graders, fourth graders, fifth graders to be interviewed by the district but then also interviewed by those who are representing the teacher. That can have an impact on the school environment. Teachers who have to be interviewed, and that can have an impact on the learning environment in terms of their perspective. So all those things are a consideration.”
Mr. Christmas also testified that there are currently grossly ineffective teachers working in OUSD that the school district does not even seek to dismiss because of “the difficulty and expense of the processes involved.”
Furthermore, Christmas explained that OUSD could not merely reallocate a greater portion of its revenue to the problem or make “better” teacher assignment decisions, testifying as follows: “In no case have we believe[d] that had we just poured in more money, there would be substantially different results… The dismissal statutes impact who remains a teacher in OUSD and as a result of impacting who remains, has an impact on who is available to be assigned.”
After today’s proceedings, Plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel, Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., stated: “Mr. Christmas, in his role as Director of Labor Strategy for Oakland Unified School District, has experienced the direct and significant resource drain that the dismissal statutes have had on his district. Public funds and administrator time that could be used to advance student learning are instead being used to meet the prohibitively costly and time-consuming requirements of the dismissal process. That is unconscionable. The current system is harming public education and preventing districts from acting in the best interest of kids.”
Outside the Courtroom
During an interview earlier Friday on KQED’s The Forum, Mr. Boutrous and counsel for the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, James Finberg, discussed the Vergara lawsuit with guest host Rachael Myrow.
In response to a question about why a lawsuit was necessary to vindicate California students’ right to equal educational opportunity, Mr. Boutrous noted: “We have political gridlock and policy gridlock on these issues in the legislature. Entrenched political interests; huge political contributions; fights with rhetoric in the political atmosphere. But we’re talking about constitutional rights of children. Kids can’t vote… We have a tradition in California and in in our country, that when the political system breaks down and that injures the constitutional rights of citizens—including children—the courts weigh in. That’s why our courageous families and kids came forward to say enough is enough. The political system isn’t working.”
During the segment, Mr. Finberg argued that the teachers unions’ support for AB 375—a failed legislative bill that would have altered the process to dismiss tenured teachers—demonstrated that the teachers unions are committed to ensuring that teachers who cannot teach should not be in the classroom.
However, policy experts, superintendents, school boards, administrators, parents, and children’s advocates across California opposed the flawed reform effort embodied in AB 375. For example:
San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza said AB 375 made “a convoluted, costly and time-consuming process…even worse.”
Wesley Smith, Executive Director of the Association of California School Administrators, said, “the problems created for school districts far outweigh[ed] any modest improvements contained in the bill…[AB 375] protect[ed] the adults over our students’ safety.”
San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board called AB 375 “a fake reform that in some cases actually [gave] teachers even more job protections.”
Los Angeles Daily News Editorial Board called AB 375 “a watered-down version that [would have made] small changes around the edges.”
At a September 10, 2013 hearing of the Senate Committee on Education, education stakeholders testified that the bill would not have done enough to protect children and may have further obstructed the dismissal process in cases of egregious conduct.
Even some legislators who ultimately voted in favor AB 375 criticized the bill and expressed bewilderment as to why the unions supported such ineffective legislation.
Thankfully, Governor Edmund G. Brown vetoed AB 375, noting in his veto statement that the bill was an “imperfect solution” that could have “create[d] new problems.”