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NY Senate eyes discipline of bad teachers

ALBANY -- The state's school districts aren't disciplining some bad teachers in the classroom because of a costly and "broken" state process that also allows many to quietly resign and teach elsewhere, according to testimony in a State Senate hearing yesterday.

Republican Sens. John Flanagan, of East Northport, and Stephen Saland, of Poughkeepsie, slammed the disciplinary process negotiated with teachers' unions. That process can take two years to complete, charges the full cost of $217,000 per case to taxpayers and they say it's stacked to favor the teacher.

In one New York City case, it took a year to fire a teacher who was convicted of manslaughter, said city schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

Officials from the state Education Department and state School Boards Association said school districts are declining to go after some teachers under the existing disciplinary process except for the most egregious incompetence and misconduct.

These teachers avoid the official process aimed at firing tenured teachers and potential loss of their state licenses. They also avoid the fines and damage to their reputation that could be part of a formal, public finding.

Andrew Pallotta, executive vice president of the New York State United Teachers union, testified that although teachers confronted with an unofficial accusation will often "resign or otherwise resolve the matter," their research shows no large numbers of bad teachers still in classrooms.

"The claim that it's difficult or impossible to fire a tenured teacher simply is not true," Pallotta said.

"It's probably true a good number of teachers who are informed they have [potential] charges against them, they probably will resign," said David Little of the state School Boards Association. "And if you want to work someplace else, that would make perfect sense."

He said school districts are facing a choice of whether to spend $217,000, on average, to bring formal charges against a bad teacher. Most of that cost is for the salary of the accused teacher as well as for a substitute teacher.

"You have to decide if a teacher in your classroom is bad enough . . . to remove three or four other teachers," Little said. "We're talking about kids' futures either way." Little said the number of these cases is "absolutely unknowable."

But he said he rarely visits a school district "where people don't talk about this as an issue . . . that they would be going forward if this wasn't such a morass."

A state Education Department official said school districts won't make such data public to taxpayers or parents because "you are asking school districts to shoot themselves in the foot."

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