Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kathy Carroll, Recognized as a Champion for School Children's Safety

Yesterday was a day of vindication for Whistle Blower Kathy Carroll. The California Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) met yesterday in a hearing to review the audit of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), which by several accounts is one of the state's worst managed agencies. Opening comments came from Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg lauding Carroll's willingness to embrace her duty to protect children despite placing her job at risk. His comments can be heard at the link provided. Carroll was actually fired for her whistle blowing and has a Personnel Board hearing later this summer regarding that action, but the JLAC hearing was what made it all worthwhile for her.

Before discussing the worst in government, lets take a moment to appreciate an example of good governance. JLAC Chair Assemblymember Lara's candor in expressing his dedication to school children's safety was genuine setting a tone for the committee. All of our legislators at the hearing were well prepared asking penetrating questions and demonstrated a commitment to quickly solving the problem. Their concern about this dysfunctional board united them so that no political partisanship or posturing was in evidence during the two hour hearing.

Senator LaMalfa and Assemblymember Alejo both asked questions driving to the heart of the issues, while Senator Dutton and Assemblymember Huber both immediately grasped the "empire-building" motivation of the CTC leadership. Assemblymember Norby jumped forward asking questions about ways to restructure the teacher credentialing function within the state and how other states handle their credentialing. In fact the entire legislative panel attending instilled confidence that our state's leadership is in control and working well together on behalf of the safety of our children. Credit is certainly due to all of them and their staff.

Credit is also due to State Auditor Elaine Howle and her experienced team whose characteristically thorough audit revealed inexcusable delays in revoking teacher credentials from convicted felons, more than 12,000 cases backlogged, and a commission employee work force stacked with relatives and friends of the Executive Staff and attorneys. The audit results indicated that nearly half of the staff feared retaliation for whistle blowing. Carroll felt that as an attorney she had a duty to report the actions up her supervisory chain, but knew that they would not be welcome.

The auditors also expressed concern about unlawful delegation of authority when the backlog when about 8,000 cases were cleared in a matter of months. Student assistants apparently were sorting through the cases and making a first determination about whether the CTC's subcommittee should even review the cases. Something rang false about the CTC's responses when questioned by the legislators about the appropriateness of the reviews and legitimacy of the backlog.

Apparently, the credential revocation case information that goes before the commission is merely a name, address, and encoding number without any fact-finding or even a summary of the incident involved. The case reviews are fully delegated to staff. So why have a commission? This type of deliberative body is said to operate under symbolic theory of governance. This means that the commissioners offer little benefit of a board system of governance. Decisions are made prior to meetings, behind the scenes, driven by staff, and with little or no input from the public.

The state audit also addressed concerns over state employee's working environment saying that more than 33% of the staff did not know the proper grievance procedures or about whistle blower and EEOC protection laws. The findings also stated that 43% of the employees thought that filing a grievance would result in retaliation. The biggest chuckle from the audience came when Executive Director Dale Janssen responded saying that his own internal survey of fear of retaliation by him or his executive staff had the percentage closer to 25% and dropping each year.

CTC Chair Ting Sun was in the hot seat with questions about when she knew what about the dysfunction of the commission and why she did not respond at the time with appropriate outrage. Her nearly dead pan response was that she was outraged that her dedication to transparency and child safety was being called into question. She stated at the beginning of her comments that the performance of the CTC was unacceptable. However, she provided no indication that she felt any responsibility for allowing the conditions at the commission to become so dysfunctional.

An overarching issue emerged during the hearing about the California whistle blower laws. The attention to this case is promising for the future overhaul of the system to encourage other state employees to come forward and to ensure that they will not be subject to retaliation. Apparently, under Senator Steinberg's leadership, we can look forward to rooting out state government waste and corruption.

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