-- Howard Blume | LA Times/L.A. NOW | http://lat.ms/puK7Iq
September 30, 2011 | 6:36 pm - L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy has cautioned school board members to avoid taking sides over who should control 15 new and 22 low-performing campuses next year.
Deasy was responding to complaints that school board member Bennett Kayser is openly backing plans being developed by three groups of district teachers for academies at South Region High School #8, a campus set to open next year in Maywood.
The school board is expected to choose the winning bidders early next year. Under a board policy, new and low-performing schools can be taken over by groups inside the district or those from outside, including charter operators.
“This causes me great concern,” Deasy wrote in a Sept. 30 memo to the seven-member board. “Highly visible board member involvement during the planning and submission process could have a major chilling effect on competing stakeholders at those schools.” He added: “Such activities raise substantial questions with many as to … fairness and impartiality.”
He asked board members to “reserve their public statements.”
Kayser, whose recent election this year was heavily funded by the teachers union, had written a “to whom it may concern” letter of recommendation for the three plans offering “my full support.”
“I know they will provide an enriching and successful education environment for our students,” he wrote in his Sept. 20 letter, which could be used to attract additional backing for the teacher-led plans.
The subsequent protest came from groups that strongly backed creating the bidding process.
“Board Member Kayser has abdicated his responsibility to be a fair arbiter,” advocates wrote in Sept. 28 letter. They called on Kayser “to immediately recuse himself from voting on … recommendations.”
Signatories to the letter include Families That Can, a parents group closely allied with charter schools; Inner City Struggle, a community group usually allied with school board president Monica Garcia; and Families in Schools, which has helped monitor the bidding for schools and generally sided on policy debates with charter schools rather than the teachers union.
Also signing the letter was Yolie Flores, who preceded Kayser in representing District 5 on the school board. Flores now heads Communities for Teaching Excellence, a nonprofit that is advocating for changes to teacher hiring and evaluations that have been opposed by the local teachers union.
While on the school board, Flores had led efforts to allow bidding by outside groups, including charter schools and a nonprofit controlled by L.A Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Charter schools are independently managed; most are non-union.
The issue of board favoritism has come up before. Advocates also had criticized board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, another teachers union ally, of openly backing a teacher-led plan last year.
The union and others, in turn, have criticized the school-board majority for canceling non-binding elections in which community members chose between competing plans. Teacher-led groups typically won these votes overwhelmingly in balloting frequently characterized by low turnout and allegations of misconduct.