We've written the “John Deasy's days are numbered” story so many times, the words have lost all meaning. However, it sure looks like Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy's days are, in fact, numbered. Like, in the single digits.
The seven-member LAUSD board, which sets overall district policy and can fire the superintendent at will, held a super-secret closed meeting Tuesday and pinky-swore to keep that discussion secret. But somebody went and leaked it anyway to the L.A. Times' Howard Blume, who reported the LAUSD board “has authorized its attorneys to discuss terms of a possible departure agreement with schools Supt. John Deasy.”
That was interpreted by some to mean the board members are about to fire Deasy. This is probably not true. Deasy is more likely to walk away from the contentious school board.
“The board’s not gonna fire Deasy,” a source close to the school board said, claiming that just two board members would vote to fire him if given the chance – Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff.
Instead of a plot to fire him, “The four-hour discussion was, 'Do we pay him or not pay him if he quits?'”
Deasy declined to say if he'll be quitting, although when pressed, he did allow to L.A. Weekly: “You see where this is going. This is not good.”
Indeed. Feelings between Deasy and the unofficial faction of three to five members of the school board, never felt warm and fuzzy, are at an all-time low.
One source who knows the superintendent says that lately, his general attitude has been, “I'm done with this shit.”
A few weeks ago, Deasy told the L.A. Times, “I have thought about whether I have the ability to do what I need to do effectively. I think about it all the time.”
The LAUSD board majority and the superintendent are like a couple that want nothing more than to break up, but neither one wants to make a first move. Neither wants to be seen as the bad guy who ended the reign of an outspoken personality whom admirers view as having turned the schools around.
And so a complex set of negotiations is needed in order for the breakup to appear orderly — and mutual.
Deasy may be asked to stay on while the board searches for a successor – a process that could take upwards of a year and, over the decades, has generally been fraught with political intrigue.
How bad are things?
When Deasy got slammed for meeting with and communicating with Apple executives and Pearson software company in the months before the school board voted to hand Apple and Pearson a huge contract to supply laptops to students, Deasy responded in an unusual way: He put through a California Public Records Act request to see who, on the board, had been talking to 18 tech companies who sell computers and software to school districts.
Deasy's move looked aggressive and petty, the bureaucratic equivalent of shouting, “I know you are but what am I?”
If Deasy exits more quickly than the year it may take to replace him, (Deasy does everything quickly), maybe Senior Deputy Superintendent School Operations Michelle King can step in, as she herself has suggested to the school board.
Deasy was swept into office by a very different school board in 2011, the majority of whom had been elected with the help of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, an ardent school reformer.
In the last year and half, Deasy's leadership has been characterized by an almost hyperactive impatience, a bullish drive to increase student academic achievement and make Los Angeles a leader in school reform.
By a number of measurable metrics – student test scores, graduation rates, truancy – the district is heading in the right direction under Deasy.
The big exception is the number of students enrolled. In LAUSD, enrollment keeps falling — a trend that started well before Deasy took over but has been powerless to stop, as more and more parents opt for charter schools and move outside the LAUSD district.
Fewer students means less revenue which means (usually) fewer teachers and fewer special programs.
Deasy has made missteps, too, most notably his plan to get an iPad into the hands of every student and teacher by the end of this year. The project, widely criticized as expensive, rushed and poorly planned, has now been put on hold, although Deasy's original laptop pilot program at 47 schools is still in effect.
But if Deasy leaves, it won't be because of the iPad brouhaha.
It will be due to two reasons:
Firstly, the political landscape has changed. School reformers had a number of successes electing their candidates to the LAUSD Board of Education during both the Richard Riordan and Villaraigosa eras. But reformers have lost the last few school board elections. In general, the school reform movement has failed to catch on with voters, even as parents have voted with their feet, placing children in charter schools.
Even the money to back Board of Education reform candidates has slowed from a gush to a steady trickle. And when Deasy threatened to quit last year, a whole coterie of school reformers rushed to his defense and he was persuaded to stay on. This time, the civic leaders who back Deasy managed only a one-page letter signed by eight people, but not including big names like Eli Broad.
The second reason? Deasy's own failure to get along with people he genuinely doesn't like. If he had just played a little politics. But that was never his way.