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CA GOP lawmakers call for quicker teacher firing following sex-abuse case

March 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The disturbing case of Mark Berndt, the former Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of 23 counts of lewd acts on his students, is the inspiration of several Republican bills in Sacramento to make it easier to fire educators.

They come at the urging of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

"The unspeakable crimes that these students were victims of must never happen again anywhere," said Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare).

Investigators say Berndt photographed blind-folded students being fed his semen on spoons and cookies. They say the children thought it was a game.

The 61-year-old had been investigated for misconduct before, but no charges were ever filed. Republicans say union-backed laws and contract clauses prevent administrators from passing along information after a certain period of time.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Remove the Four Year Rule so that evidence or complaints of past wrongdoing is held longer than the current four years.
  • Allow dismissal with no pay.
  • Strip pension and retirement benefits from teachers convicted of a job-related felony.

Berndt was able to resign, negotiate a settlement of $40,000 and receive a pension of nearly $4,000 a month, as well as lifetime health benefits.

"If you're a public employee and you're going to commit these crimes, we will not continue to pay your retirement costs," said Assemblyman Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita).

At an event where the California Teachers Association and other education groups pleaded for no more budget cuts, representatives said current laws are sufficient to deal with misconduct. They oppose changes.

"You can look at the recent actions, and where we've discovered abuse, we have, in fact, had the tools to deal with that. We've acted quickly and laws have not gotten in the way," said Bob Wells of the Association of California School Administrators.