By Cara Maresca
Former NBC anchor Campbell Brown writes in a recent Wall Street Journal column that teachers unions are going to bat for sexual predators.
This morning she stopped by the show to explain why.
Brown said that in New York City over the past five years, 97 tenured teachers or school employees have been charged with sexual misconduct. But as she writes in her op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, public school children are “defenseless.”
Here's why. Under current New York law, an accusation is first vetted by an independent investigator. … Then the case goes before an employment arbitrator. The local teachers union and school district together choose the arbitrators, who in turn are paid up to $1,400 per day. And therein lies the problem.
For many arbitrators, their livelihood depends on pleasing the unions… And the unions—believing that they are helping the cause of teachers by being weak on sexual predators—prefer suspensions and fines, and not dismissal, for teachers charged with inappropriate sexual conduct. The effects of this policy are mounting.
Brown, who testified before New York Gov. Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission last week, called the system “broken,” citing the “gray area” between appropriate behavior and explicit sexual advances from teachers as the biggest problem.
There is legislation that addresses the issue pending in the New York state Senate, sponsored by just one senator: Democratic State Sen. Stephen Saland. The proposed law, also introduced by Mayor Bloomberg and New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott, would largely keep the system as it is now, but would no longer give arbitrators the final say; instead, they’d just make recommendations to the officials in charge of each school, who are “tasked with protecting our kids,” according to Brown. The proposed legislation would still give teachers the chance to appeal terminations in court.
But without the support of other New York Senate Democrats – who are overwhelmingly pro-union – the bill doesn’t stand much of chance.
“Why doesn’t somebody sue the union?” Chris Matthews of Hardball chimed in. “That’ll win the argument. Once they become defendants in a civil case, they’ll have to pay the damages when there’s been improper behavior by a teacher.”
According to Brown, some cases are being litigated, but for a school’s chancellor or district to appeal an arbitrator’s decision, the standard is so high that it’s nearly impossible to win a case.
The United Federation of Teachers, the main teachers union in New York City, released a statement citing its belief “…in zero tolerance on the issue of sexual misconduct with children. That’s why our contract already includes the toughest penalty in the state — automatic termination — for any teacher found guilty of this offense.”
“As a student of politics, I don’t get it. It’s dumb,” Brown said. “It’s a dumb strategy [for the unions]. Why dig your heels in on issue like this as we are going through this transformational period in education reform nationwide, where the unions should want to have a seat at the table with some degree of credibility…?”