Loading...

LAUSD's Grumpy Old Man Richard Vladovic Could Squelch Reform 

Thursday, Jul 18 2013
Comments
8960137.t.jpg

For the first time in six years, the politicians on the L.A. Unified School District Board of Education, responsible for educating one in every 10 children in California, have chosen a new president, the inscrutable Richard Vladovic. After two years of dramatic changes in which reformist Superintendent John Deasy ended such practices as the "Dance of the Lemons" — the transferring of incompetent and abusive teachers to unsuspecting schools — Vladovic's presidency represents either (a) a move toward moderation or (b) the opening salvo of all-out war between Deasy and a clique of teachers union–backed board members.

Stunned onlookers watched breathlessly two weeks ago as the school board voted 5-2 to elect Vladovic. Vladovic voted for himself, joined by Bennett Kayser and Marguerite LaMotte, allies of the anti-Deasy and anti-reform United Teachers Los Angeles. The balance-tipping vote came from new board member Monica Ratliff, a teacher and political unknown. Then Steve Zimmer joined in.

That's led to jubilation among UTLA activists.

Related Stories

  • L.A. School Board Race May Actually Be Riveting 2

    People of Los Angeles: brace yourselves for the first LAUSD board election of the post-Villaraigosa era.  For years, school board elections have featured two big-monied behemoths slugging it out: UTL, the powerful teachers union, and the "school reformers," a varied collection of educators, well-to-do businessmen and activists who favor charter...
  • Teacher Rejection 3

    In a landmark decision handed down today, Judge M. Rolf Treu has declared five statutes in the California education code to be unconstitutional. The Vergara v. California ruling is sure to be appealed, and may make its way to the state supreme court. But for now, the reverberations will be felt...
  • Vergara Time Bomb: Will a Judge Tear Down California Teacher Protection Laws?

    The scene comprised a who's who of education reformers in Los Angeles. LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy was there; so was Democratic former state Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, Parent Revolution founder Ben Austin, Teach Plus Executive Director John Lee, former President of the LA Fund Dan Chang, and even...
  • Civic Groups Furious About John Deasy's Possible Resignation

    Updated at the bottom with reaction from school board president Richard Vladovic. First posted at 3:02 p.m. Last night news broke of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy's possible resignation. L.A.-based civic organizations are reacting, slamming the Board of Education for going after him and calling his potential departure "devastating." See also:
  • Why the Vergara Trial in DTLA Could Upend Public Education

    There are no bloody gloves, no celebrity witnesses, no shocking reports on DNA evidence. In fact, a few days ago Judge Rolf Treu was struggling to stay awake, calling an 11:15 am recess to keep from nodding out. Nevertheless, Vergara v. California, being covered by The New York Times, Associated...

Vladovic says he doesn't belong to either camp — the unionistas or the outspoken reformers.

"You got to be careful about words like 'reform,' " insists Vladovic, who almost never grants media interviews. "Reform means something different to everybody," and he sees himself as "right in the middle."

Vladovic was chosen in 2007 to run on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's school-reform slate with current board member Tamar Galatzan and now-departed member Yolie Flores. Those three helped pass the landmark "Public School Choice" resolution in 2009, which lets poor or failing schools switch to fresh governing models — such as highly independent charter schools or district pilot schools, which get great autonomy but must hire UTLA teachers.

In 2010, Flores, Galatzan and Vladovic helped hire John Deasy, the headstrong leader who is making history by pushing the nation's second-largest district through a whirlwind of unaccustomed change.

Gratified civic leaders see Deasy as transformational for Los Angeles as a city.

Under Deasy, student test scores and even graduation rates are moving steadily upward — a significant shift thought impossible in L.A. under disastrous past superintendents David Brewer, Ruben Zacarias and Sid Thompson.

But UTLA, the teachers union, loathes Deasy and attacks him every chance it gets.

Vladovic, though chosen by Villaraigosa to run for the board because of his reformist views, has since 2007 morphed into something of a wild card. At 68, he's gotten closer to the angry, flame-throwing Marguerite LaMotte and the frail, ill Bennett Kayser. LaMotte and Kayser bitterly oppose charter schools — and are older people of Vladovic's generation.

"Dr. Vladovic is old-school," says a school board insider. "He's old-school 'cause he's fucking old. All he wants is to feel like his voice is heard by a fellow peer."

Nobody knows what made Vladovic change. He's a notorious loner, eschewing networking events and the press. (He had never returned this reporter's phone call until a few days ago.)

"I usually don't talk to the L.A. Times or the Daily News," he says. "It sounds funny. I've got to learn that this is very political."

Some school district insiders speculate that Vladovic feels his 46 years as a teacher, principal, local superintendent of LAUSD, superintendent of West Covina School District and LAUSD board member should give his opinions more weight than the views of others.

Known affectionately to some as "Dr. V," he can be charming and avuncular, partial to words like "doggonit." His almost studied folksiness can mask an intense wonkishness about curriculum approaches and teacher-training methods, leading some to underestimate him.

But dismiss Vladovic and he's liable to blow his stack. His dark side is exemplified by his other nickname: "Dr. Death," used by those terrified of his bullying.

"A switch flips and he totally loses it," one lobbyist says.

In one oft-told tale, in 2007 he unleashed a tirade against fellow board member Marlene Canter — a soft-spoken reformer from the Westside, who drew UTLA's intense wrath for insisting upon assessing L.A.'s barely evaluated classroom teachers far more rigorously.

Dr. Death's haranguing reportedly brought the classy Canter close to tears.

One rowdy blogger wrote that Vladovic's tenure as West Covina superintendent was marked by "volcanic fits of rage."

"I have a weakness," Vladovic concedes, almost sheepishly. "I get too passionate." He adds, "I'm a blow-and-go person. After I say my piece, I move on to another issue. I don't hold grudges."

Those on the receiving end might. Days before Vladovic's elevation to the presidency, a story ran in the L.A. Daily News about harassment claims made against him by at least two employees. The timing of the story fueled speculation that it was leaked by Deasy, who refuses to comment.

In some ways, Vladovic and Deasy are two sides of the same coin. Both have great impatience with the resistant public schools both say they want to turn around. Both sometimes act like they're the smartest person in the room.

They've never gotten along. Tensions escalated when Vladovic went against Deasy to give the school board veto power over large grants Deasy wants to apply for — a new level of meddling in the supe's job — and blocked some multiyear contracts Deasy was about to sign to hire his own team, a slap in the face and, yes, more school board meddling.

Vladovic was close to Deasy's predecessor, Ramon Cortines but felt Deasy didn't respect him or respond to his staff fast enough. And Deasy is nothing like ex-Superintendent Roy Romer, who met board members at their homes to woo them. Romer was a popular reformer, but his methods slow and his progress incremental.

Deasy moves faster. He has won die-hard fans and made intense enemies by essentially saying: This is my agenda. Here are the results. If you don't like it, fire me.

Now, board reformers who back Deasy's agenda — such as giving schools more say over how they spend state funds — are in the minority. That's due in part to Vladovic's drift toward the center — and to a terrible decision by Villaraigosa to run his ex–body man for school board. That lightweight candidate badly lost to teacher Monica Ratliff, whose views of school reform are a mystery.

Deasy, architect of a policy that measures teacher effectiveness, in part, based on how well students do on math and reading tests, now faces an ambivalent school board, whose members didn't hire him.

The L.A. Times reported that Deasy told some civic leaders he would resign if Vladovic became board president. And multiple sources heard Vladovic promise weeks ago that as board president he'd try to fire Deasy.

"I'd prefer to not run out and search for a replacement right now," Vladovic insists to L.A. Weekly, half-jokingly. "Do I want him to stay? Yeah. I don't want it to be personal. This is business."

Some hold out hope that Vladovic will create a more moderate atmosphere.

Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, says Vladovic was "instrumental" in converting the badly failing Locke High School into a charter school (Vladovic was Locke's principal in the 1980s).

"We shared a view of trying to find consensus — the 80 percent that everyone agrees on," Barr says. "Steve Zimmer has some of that in him, but sometimes he caves." By contrast, Barr says Vladovic "has the trust and respect of different sides."

Maybe the job will turn the reclusive, explosive Vladovic into a leader.

"There is a tremendous amount that comes in front of you every day," explains Marlene Canter, the former LAUSD board president whom Vladovic once bullied. "You have to be very grounded and look at each challenge unbiased."

Some of his enemies say his passion for improving schools is earnest. Others think he's what's wrong with public education.

Vladovic explains that, growing up poor in San Pedro, "Education saved my life. I could have been a longshoreman. I could've been a fireman. I could've been a lawyer — I passed the law exam. But I said no, my calling is education."

Reach the writer at hillelaron@mac.com.

Reach the writer at haron@laweekly.com

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets

Around The Web

Slideshows

  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Scenes from the O.J. Simpson Circus
    In the months after O.J. Simpson's arrest for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in the summer of 1994, the drama inside the courthouse riveted the masses. But almost as much mayhem was happening right outside the building, as well as near Simpson's Brentwood home. Dissenters and supporters alike showed up to showcase art inspired by the case, sell merchandise, and either rally for, or against, the accused football star. Here is a gallery of the madness, captured by a photojournalist who saw it all. All photos by Ted Soqui.