2011-04-08 "Commission on Teacher Credentialing Slammed in Newly Published State Audit" by Mary-Alice Coleman, Esq.
Phone: (530) 758-4234
* Students put at risk as potentially dangerous teachers remained eligible to teach for months or years awaiting review for misconduct
* Whistleblowing attorney fired by Commission on Teacher Credentialing says she feels “vindicated” by report’s finding
Kathleen Carroll was fired by a state agency after trying to expose a myriad of problems the agency refused to acknowledge and claimed did not exist. A state audit that Carroll was instrumental in instigating now shows she was not only right, but that the problems are worse than most imagined.
An extensive state audit of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) released April 7 painted a picture of a small but important state agency in complete disarray. The audit cites the CTC with having a massive backlog of unprocessed reports of teacher misconduct, a poorly trained staff, ineffective and inefficient internal processes and document management, and cronyism in its hiring processes.
State auditor Elaine Howle wrote in a letter to legislators that the CTC’s slow pace may have allowed teachers of questionable character to stay in the classroom.
Carroll, who was hired by CTC in October 2006, says that by 2009 she became very concerned when she noticed a significant increase in the years-old mandatory conviction cases coming across her desk for review. She claims she was shocked to see reports of teachers and administrators who continued to work even after being accused of acts of gross misconduct and who might be a danger to school children.
In one case, a teacher was allegedly seen kissing a student in 2007, but the CTC did not contact the school district until 2009. The CTC learned that another instructor allegedly showed middle school students pornography in 2008, but did not request police documents regarding the matter until 2010. By then, the vice principal who reported the incident had retired, the student who saw the pornography did not recall the details, and others could not be found.
The teacher went on to work at another school in the district, and the committee closed the case without taking any action. A commission manager “did not offer any explanations as to why the division did not investigate this case sooner," according to the audit.
A CTC Staff Counsel, Carroll asserts she was harassed and ultimately terminated from her job by the CTC when she exposed its improper activities. After trying to report wrongdoing to the Chair of the Commission and later to the Executive Director, Carroll was not only rebuffed, but was issued a gag order by the director and was told not to speak to anyone. Fearing that the CTC’s massive backlog of unprocessed reports of teacher misconduct was putting California school children at risk, Carroll went outside the agency to seek redress.
In late 2009 and early 2010, Carroll contacted the State Bar of California for guidance. About the same time, she also made several contacts through the Whistleblower Hotline of State Audits regarding the process for obtaining an outside audit of a state agency. In response to advice she received from the Whistleblower Hotline, Carroll contacted her own legislator, Sen. Darrell Steinberg. Steinberg’s request to conduct an investigative audit into the status of licensing matters at the CTC was unanimously approved by the Joint State Audit Committee.
Carroll was not the only person dismissed after speaking up about the CTC’s troubling issues. Michael Kaufman, a new Committee on Credentials member and the Public Representative, was suspended and asked to resign when he became an outspoken critic of CTC’s delays and backlogs of disciplinary actions. When he refused to resign the CTC Executive Committee fired him, claiming he was not “collegial” with the staff regarding the backlog issue, and for “acting like a lawyer.”
In addition to the lack of quality control and huge backlog of misconduct documentation within the educator discipline division, Carroll also reported what appeared to be blatant acts of cronyism and nepotism within the agency. Carroll contends that there are many examples of questionable hiring, including Assistant General Counsel Lee Pope hiring his daughter and previously having his son on the CTC payroll. Carroll claims that other divisions have employees with spouses, children, and friends on the payroll.
The audit also found similar troubling signs and derided the CTC for its lack of “a complete set of approved hiring procedures,” and its failure to “consistently document justification for hiring a particular candidate.”
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said the audit revealed that changes must be made.
"The audit clearly shows the commission needs to overhaul its process and reevaluate its personnel," Steinberg's spokesman, Mark Hedlund, said in an e-mail.
As for Kathleen Carroll, shortly after the Bureau of State Audits began its investigation, CTC ordered her from the offices, and then fired her effective December 2010. Carroll is currently fighting the termination of her employment in the State Personal Board.