Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New rules to speed teacher discipline cases

New rules to speed teacher discipline cases

Cost reduction also expected as governor praises changes
Updated 08:13 a.m., Wednesday, April 11, 2012

ALBANY — Provisions included in the state budget should speed up teacher discipline hearings and bring down costs.
The changes will limit the pay of the hearing officers who decide the cases and force both sides to shorten the process.
Though extremely rare, hearings required to fire a public school teacher in New York are notoriously slow and extremely expensive. The average "3020-a" hearing takes 502 days and costs $216,588. The state Education Department fund that pays for the process is almost $10 million in debt, and it takes more than a year to pay the arbitrators who hear the cases.
"For too long, the teacher arbitration process was a classic example of waste and dysfunction in our education system," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "Cases would drag on for years, costing taxpayers and taking resources away from the classroom. With this reform, we finally have a process that will help achieve resolution in a timely fashion, while protecting our students, schools and the rights of teachers."
The state Education Department can now set the rates for hearing arbitrators, who make up to $1,800 for a five-hour day. Hearing officers who fail to meet deadlines can be disqualified, and the number of study days for which they are paid is now limited.
Stenographers, whose services can cost $1,000 a day, are no longer required because the changes authorize the use of new recording technologies.
In addition, evidence must be presented by both parties within 125 days of charges being filed. Districts and those subjected to a hearing have 15 days to agree on an arbitrator.
Of the more than 2,000 cases brought in the last five years, just 167 teachers were fired, the vast majority in New York City, according to a state Education Department database of cases filed between 2006 and 2011. Only 38 cases brought by schools districts upstate and on Long Island ended in termination, though a number are still undecided because it takes so long for a case to be completed. Statewide, 593 cases were simply settled and another 164 were withdrawn or consolidated.
Although the changes are not as strong as those pushed by some advocacy groups, they are the first controls imposed on the cost of the hearings. Previous attempts to bring down their price tag and duration enacted in 1994 and in 2004 actually dragged them out and made them more expensive, said Jay Worona, general counsel at the New York State School Boards Association.
For years, the association has called for reform of the 3020-a laws, including an equal burden of evidence imposed on both sides and hiring hearing officers more willing to issue stronger penalties. Worona said it remains to be seen if the new changes will have the desired effect. But he called them an important first step because the state is finally willing to take on the cumbersome process.
"We are very pleased that the state has acknowledged that there is a serious problem with the disciplining of teachers," Worona said.
Before the budget was passed, the state Education Department pushed for a change that would have placed some of the financial burden for the cases on the teachers' union. The effort failed. • 518-454-5080 • @518Schools

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