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L.A. schools chief critical of unfit teachers 'milking the system'

May 6, 2009 | 11:57 am

The top administrator for L.A.’s schools said this morning he was frustrated by unfit teachers “milking the system” by contesting justified dismissals for years.

Supt. Ramon C. Cortines was reacting this morning to an article in the Los Angeles Times on how difficult it is to fire teachers for gross misconduct. Today’s article, part of an investigative series by reporter Jason Song, detailed how 160 instructors and others remain on the payroll, without any job duties, while their fitness is being evaluated or their dismissals move through due process, which can stretch for years. The in-limbo employees cost the district about $10 million a year.

“If I had my way, I would fire all 150, and they would not get another damned penny,” Cortines said in response to a question at the end of a news conference at Fairfax High School. 

“I do not have the legal right to do that, and they’re milking the system," he said. "And the system is designed not to protect kids and schools and the educators, but it is designed to protect the very few incompetents that we have.”

Teachers union president A.J. Duffy has asserted that accused teachers deserve the presumption of innocence and due process and that they should not be expected to perform non-teaching duties while their cases are being resolved.

Cortines was speaking at Fairfax because it was the site of the first confirmed case of swine flu in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Cortines said he authorized the school to remain open on the advice of public health officials.

That decision has been questioned by Duffy, who heads United Teachers Los Angeles.

“It is foolhardy of the Los Angeles Unified School District to disregard the health and safety of students, teachers, school staff and the community,” Duffy said in a statement. “In the case of Fairfax High School, we believe strongly that LAUSD should close the school for a few days to guard against the potential spread of the disease.”

Cortines said the union’s position unnecessarily politicized the issue.

“The teachers union is not a doctor,” Cortines said. “It would be like asking me what you should do.”

He acknowledged that some parents were alarmed to see workers in protective hazardous-materials suits this morning at the school.

“We were just being precautionary,” Cortines said about cleanup efforts.

Fairfax Principal Ed Zubiate said the hazard suits were used to protect workers from daylong exposure to cleaning solvents, not the flu virus. Workers began Tuesday night to disinfect common areas and classrooms used by the sick student, who is not seriously ill, officials said.

Cortines also announced the district would receive less money from the federal stimulus plan than some had projected, supporting his reluctance to use all the dollars that would be necessary in next year's budget to rescind the planned layoffs.

The teachers union is planning a one-day strike May 15 to protest teacher layoffs, more crowded classrooms and faculty turnover, which is expected to result from the district's financial woes.

Cortines reiterated the district’s intention to seek a court injunction to stop the walkout, which violates the union contract.

-- Howard Blume

Blume is twittering about budget woes in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Follow his updates @howardblume.

Times Investigation: Failure Gets a Pass