State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Education secretary explains money for teacher investigators

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 27, 2013 10:27 PM
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There's a backlog of schoolteacher complaints, and it won't go away without more money.

So went the testimony of Education Secretary Ron Tomalis, who acknowledged the $775,000 included in the governor's budget proposal to create six new positions in the Department of Education's office of chief counsel and also cover staffing needs at the state panel that oversees teacher certifications.

The agency's lawyers are responsible for investigating each complaint against teachers and, if necessary, bringing evidence before a state panel to have those teachers' certifications revoked.

Tomalis said cases have piled up recently, with an unspecified number of the misconduct allegations stemming from a cheating scandal, which was uncovered with a 2009 state study flagging 89 schools for possibly doctoring student test answers.

"In addition to that," said Tomais, "we have 140 [to] 150 cases involving individuals with some type of sexual misconduct allegations against them."

Tomalis said with the lag in investigations, some teachers are leaving the area where a complaint has been filed and using their certification to find work elsewhere in the state.

"We've seen this happen certainly in history, is that one person will go from one school district to another school district and sometimes their background doesn't follow with them, and they might have done something improper at a prior school district," he said. "They walk into a new school district with their cert, and they say, 'I'm a certified teacher for 8th grade science.'"

State Rep. Deb Kula (D-Westmoreland) questioned the efficiency of requiring the state to revoke a teacher's certificate even for those that have already been criminally convicted. But Tomalis said the protections in place for certified teachers require the state to investigate complaints and either present evidence against the teacher or dismiss the complaint.


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