The long soap opera starring L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy and the seven-member school board is finally over, as the embattled Deasy tendered his resignation this morning, after the board ratified a separation agreement.
In a surprise twist, Deasy's interim replacement will be the man whom Deasy replaced in 2011 – the 82-year-old Ramon Cortines. According to the L.A. Times, he'll start Monday, while Deasy will remain with the district “on special assignment” until the end of the year.
It was politics that undid Deasy – both his own inability to get along with an increasingly antagonistic school board, as well as the inability of his allies in the school reform community to win elections. The beginning of the end, perhaps, came last year when pro-Deasy board member Nury Martinez left to run for L.A. City Council. She was replaced, in a shock election, by school teacher and political neophyte Monica Ratliff, who would become a key Deasy antagonist.
His initiative to spend a billion dollars in school construction bond money on iPads for every student and teacher (otherwise known as the Common Core Technology Project) was, in the end, something of a disaster. Beset by software glitches and questions over the bidding process, it became a symbol of everything that was right and wrong with Deasy: He was stubborn, impatient and fiercely committed to closing the city's deep economic divide.
In a brief joint statement announcing the resignation, the board and Deasy made sure to state: “While the District’s investigation into the Common Core Technology Project has not concluded, the Board wishes to state that at this time, it does not believe that the Superintendent engaged in any ethical violations or unlawful acts, and the Board anticipates that the Inspector General’s report will confirm this.”
In a much longer resignation letter, Deasy cited his administration's accomplishments, which include raising test scores, graduation and attendance rates.
“In closing,” he wrote, “let me thank my critics, for they have helped us see where we can do our work better, and that is what we do with each opportunity to improve. I also wish to thank my supporters. You have enabled us to move quickly to right wrongs in the lives of youth, but please do not be satisfied, there is so much more we need to accomplish.”
The new superintendent will likely be a more moderate force. Board member Steve Zimmer, often the swing vote on the board, appeared on KCRW's Which Way L.A. on Monday — before Deasy's resignation was official but when it appeared all but certain — and said:
We are really in a period of transition right now, a transition from a period where a lot of changes were needed and a lot of changes on a policy level were passed. Now we're going into a period of implementation. That period of implementation is going to take a different kind of leadership. It’s going to take a very collaborative leadership, where we’re really bringing everyone along. I would argue even more important than bringing the Board of Education along, it’s bringing along the rank-and-file teachers, administrators and staff members who are actually implementing this agenda in our classrooms with children on a day-to-day basis.
The board is likely to appoint members to an independent search committee to look for Deasy's replacement, a process that could take more than six months.
In the meantime, Cortines will take over. He served as head of New York City schools in the 1990s, briefly as interim superintendent for LAUSD in 2000, then as the actual superintendent from 2009 to 2011. He was known as a reformer, but a much more moderate one, and a consensus builder.
In 2013, an LAUSD employee named Scot Graham sued Cortines, alleging that the former superintendent sexually assaulted him. Cortines said the relationship was consensual. In February of this year, a judge threw out the lawsuit on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired.