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State audit faults LA Unifieds abuse reporting
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Unified School District frequently failed to report teacher misconduct to state credentialing authorities and took too long to investigate and punish teachers, according to a report by the California state auditor released Thursday.

The 57-page audit made four main recommendations to the nation’s second-largest school district. But it noted that state laws governing teacher dismissal contribute to the problem of prolonged investigations and expense in firing teachers.

Superintendent John Deasy said the district already has addressed the deficiencies outlined in the audit.

“We completely agree and more,” he said.

The audit was sparked by a case earlier this year in which a former South Los Angeles third-grade teacher was arrested on lewdness charges over allegations he fed students semen-laced cookies over several years. Mark Berndt has pleaded not guilty.

The case attracted international headlines and prompted numerous teacher sexual abuse cases across the state.

It also drew attention to how the district handles complaints of teacher misconduct and discipline when it emerged that students had complained years before about Berndt’s alleged behavior, but no action was taken.

It was also revealed that the district never had reported his case to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, as required by state law. Additionally, the district had to pay Berndt $40,000 to retire rather than go through a lengthy dismissal process.

Deasy said the district has taken numerous steps to tighten procedures since then. It has formed new employee investigation unit to expedite cases, revamped teacher misconduct reporting procedures to require multiple layers of review so cases will not go overlooked, and adopted a 72-hour parental notification policy when teachers are accused of misconduct.

Additionally, it has stepped up teacher and parent training in signs of child sex abuse and implemented a district-wide tracking system to monitor disciplinary actions against employees.

Although the state audit said that laws made firing teachers a labyrinthine process, it noted several cases where district officials simply failed to act. In one case, it took a principal eight months to write a memo to an employee after an abuse investigation was concluded.

It also noted that the district pays the salaries of teachers under investigation even though they are not working in a classroom, a status known as being “housed.”

The audit said that as of mid-September, the district had paid $3 million in salaries to 20 non-working teachers accused of misconduct with students. One such case has dragged on for more than four years, the audit said.

Deasy said teachers are housed an average of 127 days and the district is moving more aggressively to fire them. In the 2011-2012 school year, 96 teachers were fired for misconduct, up from 63 the previous year. It costs an average $300,000 to dismiss a teacher.

It currently has 298 teachers being housed, 54 of whom are not being paid.

Warren Fletcher, president of teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles, did not have an immediate statement on the report, a spokeswoman said.

Deasy said the school board will be advocating efforts to change teacher dismissal laws, especially in cases of sexual misconduct, although one previous bill was defeated earlier this year.

State Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, who requested the audit, said he was satisfied with the results. “It really shed some light on some appalling information,” he said.

The audit also recommended the Legislature create a statewide tracking system of dismissed school support employees, such as custodians and cafeteria workers, to prevent their rehiring by other districts. Lara, a Los Angeles County Democrat who was recently elected to the state Senate, said he would pursue such legislation.