Embarking on a monumental task that some say is doomed to fail, Los Angeles Unified school officials are taking aim at state laws that make it virtually impossible to fire teachers.
Facing unprecedented layoffs, including 3,500 teachers with less than two years of experience, district officials and their allies say they need the power to cull bad teachers from the ranks or students will suffer in the classroom.
"It's about weeding out people who shouldn't be working with our kids," said board member Tamar Galatzan.
On Tuesday, the school board is scheduled to vote on a pair of resolutions to change state teacher protections as well as internal teacher promotion policy.
Among them, they will seek to rewrite codes that favor teacher and administrator seniority during layoffs that allow senior staff to "bump" less senior staff out of their jobs, creating a domino effect that ultimately leads to the loss of new, nontenured teachers.
Also, the board has proposed a new evaluation method that would automatically fire teachers if they receive two consecutive poor performance reviews. A better evaluation method, say district officials, will improve teaching morale and student achievement.
If approved, the measures will kick off a drawn-out fight with California's powerful teachers unions, which hotly oppose any changes to existing laws. The rules protecting teacher jobs are so effective that just 31 teachers have lost their jobs in the state in the past five years.
Teachers union officials say employees deserve job protection so that they can't be arbitrarily fired by a principal with a grudge.
"Does the public want vocal teachers to be fired because an administrator doesn't want to have a voice of opposition?" said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.
LAUSD board members and Superintendent Ramon Cortines - along with the support of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa - say it is time to overhaul the decades-old legal codes that protect teachers by seniority, but pay scant attention to competency and performance.
While recognizing their proposal will start a long struggle with the teachers unions and likely unsettle political alliances in Sacramento, board members say with so much attention on public education right now, there's no better time to begin.
California school districts do not have the authority to fire teachers, according to state law. If a teacher is targeted for dismissal, teachers have the right to take their case to an administrative hearing, where an administrative judge and two school officials will hear the case and decide.
About 149 LAUSD teachers are awaiting a dismissal hearing and have been removed from the classroom. All but 17 continue to receive a paycheck, according to district records.
"There is an incentive for a bad employee to fight because they continue to get paid," Galatzan said.
The two motions were first introduced by board members Marlene Canter, whose district includes Westchester, and Galatzan on April 14, the same day the board voted 4-3 to lay off nearly 7,000 teachers.
The layoffs were prompted by the district's budget deficit, which some fear could reach $1.3 billion over the next three years.
The second resolution, authored only by Canter, calls for changes to the district's internal process that promotes teachers from probation to tenure. Today, teachers become permanent after two years on the job with little internal scrutiny.
"It's a passive process," Canter said. "If nothing is done, teachers still become permanent."
Santiago Jackson, director of LAUSD's governmental affairs unit, said such legislation would face a "difficult challenge" in Sacramento.
"Similar attempts have been made in the past but they failed due to opposition from the California Teachers Association and UTLA," he said.
Mike O'Sullivan, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, had an even more blunt view.
"It has no chance of passing," O'Sullivan said
The head of the Los Angeles teachers union said the problem is not with state laws that protect teachers, but principals who fail to help teachers become better educators.
"If administrators would do their jobs and identify teachers who are struggling, give them guidance and assistance, and if those people do not improve, then they should be written up," Duffy said. "If administrators did their job, then we could deal with the issue now."