Well, we were right: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's superintendent of choice made it past the L.A. School Board yesterday. Board members voted him in 6-0; only Steve Zimmer, of Board District 4, abstained.
John Deasy will now be promoted from deputy superintendent to the highest throne in the Los Angeles Unified School District — he's set to replace 78-year-old Ramon Cortines as soon as the tireless workhorse steps down (finally!) this spring.
The mayor, unsurprisingly, praised the board's decision right off the bat, as if there was ever a chance they might defy him:
“John Deasy is the right person for this job and the Los Angeles Unified School District is lucky to have him,'' the mayor said. “John understands the unique challenges facing the LAUSD and has already benefited from on-the-job training as deputy superintendent.''
The overall sentiment among city officials (and the Los Angeles Times) is that Deasy is an excellent choice — extremely capable of handling a low-income, low-performing school system like L.A.'s. He may have a shady history of allegedly lying about his credentials and snatching up money wherever he can find it, but he also has some pretty stellar statistics to show for those school districts he's overseen: the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and of Prince George's County Schools in Maryland.
According to Zimmer, though — the one abstaining board member — even the most qualified candidate On Earth should have some friendly competition.
“We didn't have a process — internal or external — for the most important job in public education in the United States right now,” he tells the Weekly. “It has nothing to do with John Deasy. I'm a big fan. … But I can't be sure that I got the best person for the job if I didn't get to even talk to anybody else.”
Zimmer says that in 2008, when Superintendent Cortinas selected Deasy to be his deputy, he and the board “never, ever” got the impression that “Deasy would be superintendent-in-waiting.”
However, that's exactly what went down yesterday. An inside source told the Weekly on Monday that Mayor Villaraigosa was “making all the moves behind the scenes to make [Deasy's promotion] happen.” Even the Times picked up on the fact that Villaraigosa had met with Deasy and Board President Monica Garcia last Wednesday to discuss “transition issues.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who also hasn't commented about the selection — and who declined to be interviewed — has been quietly involved. He has been meeting regularly with Garcia and Deasy. And staff at the district and City Hall confirmed that the mayor was aware of the pending vote, apparently before even some board members.
Cortines, who has had a strained relationship with the mayor in recent months, has not been involved.
However, high-strung Hollywood blogger John Walsh says he had the story first, and jucier:
“Ramon Cortines, LAUSD Superintendent (as I write this) has been told to clean out his desk because he will be gone within a week. The background — Mayor Antonio delivered that message to LAUSD Board Member and Broad/Riordan puppet Monica Garcia in a secret meeting earlier this week. Antonio is, of course, merely doing the bidding of his brain — Eli Broad and Broad's sidekick former Mayor Richard Riordan.”
Before he was hand-picked by said L.A. politicians and millionaires, Deasy served as head schools official at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which tells us a thing or two about his interest in monetization of education. (The Gates are huge proponents of charter schools, and often throw their money at district overthrowers like Parent Revolution).
However, he's likewise semi-popular among the more reform-minded of teachers' union affiliates, in part for encouraging new training and evaluation methods instead of giving up on districts altogether — like, say, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Board of Education picks.
School District 1 candidate Eric Lee, a reformist up for Margueritte LaMotte's seat in March, tells the Weekly he would very happy to serve under Deasy.
“Deasy looks at the quality public school argument — that whatever works for the benefit of the children is what we must embrace,” says Lee. “People try to make this argument between the reformers and the unions, but that's not my argument — that's an adult argument.” He claims Deasy is about the kids, not the adults.
And although Lee opines that “LaMotte's votes have demonstrated she is carrying forth a union agenda,” LaMotte has similarly come out in huge support of Deasy — most importantly, with her vote.
Perhaps it was for this political versatility that the L.A. Unified School Board was so quick to hand Deasy his $330,000 contract yesterday (that's $80,000 more than Cortines). Zimmer speculates that, among a “number of factors,” some of his “colleagues were reluctant because of what happened in the [David] Brewer process. … Or maybe they felt they didn't need to do a search because they felt like they had the right person.”
Either way, he says, “We were not talk-heavy in any form.”
According to a Los Angeles Times article today, Board Member Margueritte LaMotte was likewise a little weirded out by the lack of application process, though she voted for Deasy without contest on Tuesday.
LaMotte also said she was concerned that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may have played too large a role in the hiring process but decided to vote for Deasy in an “effort to move forward,” she said.
Everyone seems to have forgotten about the skeletons in Deasy's closet. The Weekly blogged back in June about Deasy's spineless resume, including a PhD “after completing only nine credits” and a faculty position at Loyola Marymount that the school could not confirm. Yesterday, another education-watcher unearthed a few of Deasy's slimy connections:
A year after taking over as superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in 2001, Deasy recommended that his school system pay $125,000 for a survey performed by the National Center on Public Education and Social Policy, which is run by Felner. The survey was later extended for two more years at the same price, for a total of $375,000.
In 2010 Felner was sentenced to 5 1/4 years for misappropriating funds from a research grant and from contracts with urban school districts.
Mayor Villaraigosa hosted a feel-good brunch today, where city officials welcomed Deasy to the wolf pack and the brand-new superintendent tried to speak Spanish (ouch).
We're crossing our fingers — and you should too — that this legacy pick will make good on the glimmers of progressive reform he's shown thus far. And at $330,000 a year, it would be the least he could do.