By Patrick Range McDonald and Megan Diskin
The LAUSD Board of Education announced tonight it is keeping Superintendent John Deasy, renewing his contract to 2016 following a tense, closed-door meeting between Deasy and the board that lasted for hours Tuesday. Teachers union activists standing nearby groaned with disappointment, having hoped to get rid of the reformer superintendent.
The pressure was on the board after a crowd of 200 parents, students and community activists held a rowdy rally, holding placards demanding that the board back off Deasy, praising his track record, and chanting, "Don't Be Crazy, Keep John Deasy!"
The rally was organized by United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which has become increasingly active in fighting for reform at LAUSD, seeing its underachieving schools and sometimes substandard teachers as an issue of civil rights for children. Ryan Smith of United Way said organizations backing Deasy represent "hundreds of thousands" of local parents and children who are all after the same thing:
Keeping the superintendent in his job. Smith expressed frustration with the elected Board of Education and its handling of Deasy over the last several months, telling the crowd: "We said enough is enough. We're making sure our voices are heard!"
Later, as a closed meeting between Deasy and the board about his future wore on, the Los Angeles Daily News reported that last Thursday, Deasy gave the board a proposal to resign next February and work as a consultant until his contract expires 16 months later. The paper reported:
The General Counsel's Office prepared the six-page document on Friday at Deasy's request, formalizing a deal the superintendent had broached the day before in a meeting with board President Richard Vladovic.
The draft document, and the sequence of events, was provided by a senior aide to a school board member who requested anonymity.
That's not what the crowd wanted Tuesday.
It marched in a large circle, holding signs advocating for children's education and retaining Deasy. It included representatives from Parent Revolution, Community Coalition, Alliance for a Better Community, Families in Schools and several other organizations.
In the middle of the circle, a man led a chant directed at LAUSD Board President Richard Vladovic, a former school principal who has been combative toward Deasy and is viewed in some quarters as the key reason Deasy wants out.
Don't be crazy, keep John Deasy
Let him be, Dr. V
Let him be, John Deasy
Ama Nyamekye, of Educators 4 Excellence, said that under Deasy, "There's promising change happening. ... We need the continuity of leaders for these changes to be fully implemented."
She was with several women holding pro-Deasy signs, including Lindsey Patin, who teaches ninth-grade special education at Augustus Hawkins High School in South L.A.
Patin said Deasy "brought more teachers to the conversation and was so adamant and supportive of policies."
Tom Adams, another teacher, said, "Dr. Deasy has one focus: the education of our students."
Amy Baker, of the group Parent Partnership, called what has unfolded at LAUSD headquarters between Deasy and the board "total board dysfunction" and said board members don't seem to grasp that "we're starting to see results under [Deasy's] leadership."
If the Los Angeles School Board imagines it can find somebody better to run the sprawling district, Baker warned, "We can't wait for Superman. There is no one Superman."
Bob Ross, of the California Endowment, said the rally had nothing to do with "somebody's job. ... This gathering today is about the future of our children. ... We need more warriors like John Deasy."
Ross says Deasy, in stark contrast to some LAUSD superintendents of the past, has been like a horse winning a race -- and when you're winning, "You don't change horses."
Ross says standardized tests are fine and needed, but beyond that, "John Deasy realizes our children are more than walking test scores."
Maria Brenes, of the group Inner City Struggle, said LAUSD was finally showing progress under the superintendent, and "we're not going to allow politics and certain board members to take us back."
At that point, parents yelled out, "Viva Deasy!" to loud applause.
Yolie Flores, a former L.A. Unified School Board member who pushed for dramatic reforms and sometimes clashed with board members who sided with UTLA, read remarks from former School Board President Marlene Canter, who pushed for numerous changes while on the board.
Canter, who rarely speaks out on the problems facing the current board, could not attend but said through Flores, "We're very lucky to have Superintendent John Deasy. It's as simple as that." But, Canter added, "It's a sad day when the adult agenda is overtaking the needs of children."
Flores, speaking for herself, said change makes people feel uncomfortable and that's why Deasy has been dealing with push-back from some board members. Deasy has not only talked about student equity and access but he "walked the talk," Flores said,
"Never before have we had a leader who has demanded more from himself," she argued, noting that test scores are up and suspensions are down under Deasy -- a rare occurrence in Los Angeles schools.
Her message to LAUSD's board was: "Your job is to move forward, not backward. ... By the way, Board of Education, your job is to put children first, and not just say those pretty words."
Flores warned the board that the agendas of political organizations should not be first priority, saying, "You have a moral and sacred obligation to only one constituency, and that's children."
Former School Board President Caprice Young, who in the early 2000s guided the board under the last successful reformer to run LAUSD, ex-Superintendent and former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, urged the board and Deasy to work "like a team."
Young was the final speaker at the rally before an open LAUSD board meeting began at 12:30 p.m. Chants of "Don't be crazy, Keep John Deasy!" started up again and a line formed around the block as people waited to squeeze into the meeting.
The throng then streamed into the crowded Board of Education meeting room for a public comment session.
UTLA president Warren Fletcher showed up, telling the board that the union rank-and-file are not thrilled with Deasy and that the teachers he represents question his competency.
Speaker Walter Waddell accused Deasy of misuse of funds, saying Deasy "forgot to bring honesty and integrity."
But during this open forum, the vast majority praised Deasy or criticized board members for giving him grief. Deasy, sitting at the front of the room, seemed nervous, uneasy, uncomfortable and a little sad.
At one point, LAUSD board member Marguerite LaMotte, a close ally of UTLA's and a critic of Deasy's, referred to the crush of one-sided public comments for Deasy by pointing to the roomful of parents, kids and teachers and saying, "I'm not a politician but this is politics!"
Maria Elena Meraz, representing Parents Institute for Quality Education, said of the strong parental support for the superintendent: "If you look at the statistics, the district is moving forward and parents know that."
At the end of the public comment period, everyone was asked to leave as Deasy went into closed session with the LAUSD School Board to discuss his future.
A chant began, "Si se puede," which sparked the smaller anti-Deasy group to respond, and the two sides exchanged a verbal tit-for-tat.
[Added at 6:55 p.m.]:The escape contract Deasy had proposed last week, now moot, would have paid Deasy his full salary. In return, Deasy agreed to some fairly vague work parameters:
After said resignation, the DISTRICT will pay DEASY his salary, including his regular benefits, through June 30, 2015, subject to the regular required tax and other deductions and contributions, and make any necessary adjustments. Between Feb. 2, 2014, and June 30, 2015, DEASY shall be available to the DISTRICT as a consultant in order to assist with the transition and to perform various assignments to be determined by the DISTRICT, including but not limited to provide advice and assistance to the succeeding Superintendent and with respect to various programs and issues (e.g., Common Core, Smarter Balance, budget, student attendance, etc.)
Along with his last paycheck, DEASY will be paid his accrued vacation hours, subject to the regular required tax and other deductions and contributions. Each party is solely responsible for its own attorneys' fees and costs. DEASY shall return all DISTRICT property, including but not limited to his DISTRICT-issued vehicle, on or before his last day of work (i.e. February 1, 2014)
[Added at 11:03 p.m.]: Mayor Eric Garcetti had this to say tonight:
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I am pleased with the board's decision, but progress in the district will depend on all parties making our students the priority. I am committed to accountability at the district, a voice for teachers and parents, and working with Superintendent Deasy and the board to get our children career and college ready.
[Added at 11:30 p.m.]: Warren Fletcher, head of the teachers union, issued a statement tonight:
"It is unbelievable that the Board of Education has given John Deasy a 'satisfactory' evaluation and rewarded him by extending his contract through June 2016, despite a clear message from L.A.'s teachers and Health and Human Services professionals that Deasy's leadership is anything but satisfactory."
UTLA's statement also cited a poll of its members last April in which 91 percent said they had no confidence in Deasy, and it went on to accuse Deasy of having a teacher fired two years ago shortly after he visited her classroom and criticized her teaching.