LAUSD board members order attorneys to renegotiate contract terms of superintendent’s departure
By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/1uHfSbW
This 2013 file photo shows LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. (Photo by Andy Holzman/Los Angeles Daily News/File)
10/02/14, 8:12 PM PDT :: Without saying a word publicly, Los Angeles Unified School board members authorized district lawyers to renegotiate the terms of Superintendent John Deasy’s employment contract in case his tenure is ended, sources familiar with the closed-door conversations confirmed Thursday.
Deasy’s contract prohibits severance pay beyond the one month’s notice his elected bosses are required to provide when terminating him without a given reason. As the top staffer of the nation’s second-largest school district, Deasy was paid $393,106 in taxable wages last year, according to documents obtained by this news organization.
The school board has not given an explanation for renegotiating Deasy’s contract in the event of his departure, nor have members disclosed their thoughts on his performance. An annual review is set for Oct. 21, per the terms of his contract.
After privately telling attorneys to renegotiate Deasy’s departure terms Tuesday, board President Richard Vladovic emerged from a nearly four-hour closed-door meeting and publicly reported that no action had been taken.
He declined to answer questions at the time, saying, “We haven’t decided anything, and we agreed not to talk about it.” Vladovic did not return calls for comment Thursday.
LAUSD’s top lawyer, David Holmquist, stated Thursday that transparency laws were not violated by the board’s handling of the decision.
Deasy, who did not attend Tuesday’s board meeting, declined to comment on the matter Thursday.
Board members met in a closed session despite written pleas for transparency from 23 community partners and business groups, including United Way, California Community Foundation, First 5 LA, the California Endowment, Los Angeles Urban League and Community Coalition.
“If this board truly prioritizes children, it will hold Superintendent Deasy in place through an orderly process of transparent performance review. And better yet, conduct an open process to allow community members and stakeholders to have their voices heard,” read one of two letters bearing the signatures of 19 civic leaders.
Four board members face re-election in the coming year. One board member, Bennett Kayser, has already received an endorsement from the district’s 35,000-member union, United Teachers Los Angeles. Vladovic, who was not UTLA’s first pick in the 2011 election, received the union’s support last year despite claims that he sexually harassed Deasy’s secretary.
Board member George McKenna won a contentious runoff in August with the help of a UTLA endorsement and members who volunteered for his campaign. He faces another vote, as he was elected to finish out the term of board member Marguerite LaMotte, who died in December while in office.
Tamar Galatzan, one of two board members representing the San Fernando Valley, has never received UTLA’s endorsement.
News of the school board’s decision to reconsider departure terms with Deasy broke as UTLA headed back to the bargaining table Thursday. Contract talks between the two sides had stagnated with the teachers union talking about a strike and Deasy refusing to meet their demands for a 17.6 percent pay raise. But Thursday the teachers union proposed a 10 percent pay raise this year and immediate negotiations for following years. LAUSD withheld statement pending analysis of the proposal.
UTLA continues to organize in case of a strike. Technology blunders, including the district’s faulty effort to buy iPads for all students and buggy new software for keeping student records, have been used by the union to rally members and denounce Deasy.
Aside from renegotiating the terms under which Deasy could leave the district Tuesday, board members also received an offer to replace him.
“As discussions started to surface about a post-Deasy LAUSD, I was compelled to notify the board of my willingness to serve as a short-term bridge for continuity in the event that it was necessary,” Deputy Superintendent Michelle King, one of Deasy’s top staffers, said in response to questions about her application.
In addition to one month’s notice, Deasy’s contract requires the school board to pay him for unused vacation days and credit unused sick time toward his service time for retirement, according to the contract being re-examined.
LA school board taking hard look at Superintendent Deasy's performance
Annie Gilbertson | 89.3 KPCC http://bit.ly/1tnkAG3
Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy speaks during a press conference at South Region High School #2 in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012. AFP/AFP/Getty Images
3 October 2014 6AM :: Scrutiny of Los Angeles Unified's John Deasy is growing more intense as the school board prepares to evaluate the superintendent.
Members of the board are questioning Deasy's effectiveness and the direction he has set down in running the second largest school district in the country.
Discussions began Tuesday during a closed session board meeting and a final evaluation is scheduled for Oct. 21. But the date may prove meaningless if the board, Deasy or both sides decide sooner that his departure is in the best interest of the district.
Board member Steve Zimmer declined to comment about what happened during the closed session, but said it's routine for the board to call upon attorneys to evaluate all potential outcomes of the superintendent's review, including a possible departure.
"The board is doing everything it can and should do to maintain stability of the district. It's normal to have discussions of all options. There is nothing unusual," Zimmer said.
It's extremely rare for a board to fire a superintendent. More often, superintendents resign when faced with unresolvable opposition.
Last school year, Deasy told some board members he was considering resigning. His supporters rallied behind him, and he was retained.
This year, issues with the rollout of iPads to classrooms and a digital school attendance system have heightened criticism, particularly from the teachers union. Union leaders complain Deasy's management style is top-down and autocratic.
Deasy's supporters point to his successes.
The superintendent and the board expanded breakfast for students across the district and dropped punitive discipline policies, resulting in a dramatic decrease in student suspensions.
"[Deasy] has been very focused on the achievement of kids. We've seen progress of the district and we don't want to go back," Elise Buik, CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, told KPCC this week.
Controversy surrounding Deasy reached a fever pitch in the last couple of months.
Deasy authorized the release of the new student data system, which failed to accurately schedule student classes, record attendance and track the needs of English Learners and special education students.
The superintendent's technology team continues to work through bugs, and made improvements to the code and servers and increased technical support to schools. Still, issues persist.
Deasy is under investigation by the district's inspector general office for his involvement in a $500 million contract with Apple and publisher Pearson to provide all students an iPad loaded with learning software.
KPCC published emails showing Deasy's conversations with the companies' executives included details that resembled requirements used later in the contract bid.
Deasy maintains the bidding process was fair, and hired an attorney with experience in bid-rigging investigations to represent him. Through his attorney, Deasy requested emails from technology vendors and some board members, in effect questioning his bosses.
Less than three weeks after the emails became public, one of Deasy's top staff requested the school board purchased software programmed to automatically delete emails after a time. The board approved the purchase, but said it would revisit the district's email retention policy.
Since he took the helm in 2011, Deasy's aim has been to improve student learning through controversial policies: expanding charter schools, tying teacher evaluations to test scores, removing teachers and administrators from troubled schools and opposing teacher tenure.
Deasy's political platform won him support of the self-described education reformers, who spent millions on L.A. Unified elections to build Deasy's alliances on the school board and even funded campaigns against current board members.
Deasy's contract stipulates he can be evaluated on student attendance, graduation rates, and test scores. Since his arrival, the measures have improved.
The number of students attending 96 percent of the time jumped six percentage points, graduation is up four percentage points and 3rd grade reading proficiency is up one percentage point, according to L.A. Compact, a group of education stakeholders who have worked closely with Deasy.
The question facing the board is what portion of the improvement can be attributed to Deasy and what portion to others, including those classroom teachers asking for his resignation.
If Deasy departs, his senior deputy superintendent of school operations, Michelle King, has offered to serve in the interim.
John Deasy's future
Editorial By The Times Editorial Board http://lat.ms/1vD5JvV
LAUSD Supt. John Deasy has a strained relationship with the school board. (Reed Saxon / AP)
It would be a great loss to the students of Los Angeles Unified School District if Supt. John Deasy left his job or were fired, especially if the enormous and welcome sense of urgency he brings to education left with him. Deasy's leadership over the last 3 1/2 years has led to higher student test scores and graduation rates, as well as to improved results for students learning English, among other accomplishments.
That's why it is such a shame that relations between Deasy and the school board have been so difficult for so long. A year ago, the embattled superintendent survived a period of turmoil during which he threatened to quit and critics pushed the board to fire him. Now, after months of simmering tension, the superintendent is embattled again and the board has instructed staff to draw up a termination agreement, should this turn out to be the end of the line.
If this were just a question of whether the board should fire Deasy, the answer would be simple: Of course it shouldn't.
But the real question is a more complicated one: whether Deasy and his elected bosses on the board can figure out a mutually productive working relationship. The board majority wants a superintendent who will pay attention to its concerns and show less of a stubborn, independent streak. But Deasy is a doer; he wants a board that will show more support for his ideas and approve them more readily. He has trouble with challenges to his initiatives, and there are many times when he is right that the board is meddling unnecessarily. Too often the board discussions seem designed to frustrate Deasy rather than to help him do a more effective job.
But not always. The truth is that Deasy, for all his skills, hasn't been politically agile enough to forge relationships on the board that give him the goodwill he needs to carry out his agenda.
If Deasy had managed his employers — and his most important employees, the teachers — better, the badly fumbled plan to purchase an iPad for every student would not have led to a battle cry for his ouster. It would be seen as one bad misstep, but not as important as the primary mission of keeping students in school and helping them to graduate with solid academic skills.
There are certain things Deasy may never achieve, no matter how politically adept he becomes. He can't turn United Teachers Los Angeles into a reliable teammate. The union has a reputation even among teachers unions for being intransigent and stuck in the past. It's going to doggedly support every teacher tenure protection, no matter how much out of line it is with national norms or rational thinking. Unions exist to protect teachers, and when the interests of teachers (or of the union itself) work against the best interests of students, Deasy is right to fight back.
But not all of the outcry from teachers comes from bad apples and union activists. In recent years, teachers have been put on furlough, have been ordered to serve breakfast in their classrooms, and have watched Deasy argue against their much-beloved tenure protections and in favor of including student test scores in their evaluations. Rightly or wrongly, many good and dedicated teachers feel that their opinions don't count and that they and their profession are being blamed for all that goes wrong in education.
Apart from the teaching staff, Deasy probably can't become best buddies with the union's staunchest ally on the board, Bennett Kayser. Another board member, Monica Ratliff, has been showing an unsettling tendency to micromanage the district and its chief executive.
But on the seven-member board, Deasy has two reliable allies: Monica Garcia and Tamar Galatzan. At least two more, Steve Zimmer and board President Richard Vladovic, are independent thinkers who could be persuaded to support him more often. New board member George McKenna is less of a known quantity; so far, he seems inclined to ask the superintendent questions, but is satisfied when he gets a good answer.
Four seats are up for election in the spring, providing possibilities for building new alliances.
It is certainly true that the board has failed to give Deasy enough credit for his key role. Deasy's passion for serving disadvantaged students of color, and his ability to act on that passion, are the most important measures of his value. L.A. Unified's students are doing better on a wide range of measurements. At pilot schools, where teachers vote to create some of their own work rules, teachers have been able to make a bigger difference in students' lives. Schools are safer. Parents are more involved. Good charter schools have been encouraged, and for those who think Deasy is an unchecked privatizer of public schools, it's worth noting that among the last several superintendents, he has fought the hardest to shut underperforming charter schools. And he has usually won.
Now, he should pay equal attention to the job of communicating with the board and building a steadier core of support there. If he can't do that, he will not be a successful, effective superintendent over the long run. It is the board's responsibility to oversee the district, and frankly, that's a good thing. Had the board asked more questions about the iPad contract to start with (and a lot fewer about the very small contracts that individual schools would like to forge with vendors), the district would be much better off today. But the board is worse at picking its battles than Deasy is.
The board probably won't fire Deasy. But it could nag and nitpick him into leaving. That would be a grave mistake. Yet Deasy will have to come to peace with the idea that he is the board's employee. He must build alliances and persuade board members rather than treat questions as a nuisance. And he should stop threatening to leave. Not only does this throw the district into a tizzy, but he loses support from a public that grows weary of the melodrama. Deasy and the board should start by forging a set of common goals for the next year; surely they share hopes of good outcomes for L.A.'s students. Where is Mayor Eric Garcetti, who entered the fray last year in support of Deasy, in helping the two sides come to grips?
Analysis: A deal between Deasy and the board? No real surprise
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy
Part of the conversation dealt with finding a way to reach a financial settlement with Superintendent John Deasy to remove him from his post, as the LA Times reported this morning.
Who could be surprised?
The talks suggest that a majority of board members want Deasy gone, and Deasy himself has told people he has grown weary of dealing with incessant criticism — some deserved, some irrational — from board members who do not share his vision for the district and from a teachers union that views him as the embodiment of evil.
Setting aside all that toxicity, what the board doesn’t want is for Deasy’s employment to come down to a show of hands. That’s the plan for now. His performance review scheduled for Oct. 21, and a negative vote could start the countdown.
It seems apparent by the talks that the board would prefer a swifter resolution. Why? Lots of reasons.
Let’s start with the most obvious: Each member of the board would have to defend the vote he or she casts. Four of them are facing re-election early next year, and voters in their districts might not have the same feelings toward Deasy as a board member who follows him blindly or as a member who parrots the teachers union.
Further, it was the board, after all, that approved every one of Deasy’s steps and missteps, never mind a member’s day-later confessions of regret. Whatever happened, right or wrong, the board approved it.
Next, the district has been subsumed by a constant barrage of negativity. Reports of rising test scores and higher graduation rates are routinely overshadowed by the next example of blunder in the iPad and MiSiS adventures. The teachers union has been especially vocal on that score with outrage that obscures the fact that higher test scores, higher graduations rates and fewer dropouts reflect as well on teachers — maybe even better — than it does on Deasy.
Finally, crafting a settlement agreement unites the board as nothing else possibly could, even if the action appears to some city residents as cowardly. Even Deasy’s frequent supporters, Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia, can support a deal if it seems fair to Deasy, giving the board a united voice in saying, “Thanks, John. Have a nice life.”
So then what. The board appoints an interim — Deasy’s deputy Michelle King has raised her hand for the job — and a search begins for the district’s fifth superintendent since the turn of the century.
No doubt, the board members will seek out the most un-Deasy-like person they can find. Maybe that’s good, in a way. The board gets a few Kumbaya years with a go-along to get-along superintendent who slows the pace of change, builds on the positive student performance of the Deasy years and satisfies a teachers union that has been threatening to strike for higher salaries, the end of teacher evaluations, elimination of teacher jail and a return to pre-recession staffing levels.
Of course, the new superintendent gets the old superintendent’s budget, but that’s another story.
For now, though, the board has to decide the terms of disengagement: A thumbs up or down vote later this month or a clean deal that leaves both sides with genuine smiles of relief, each happy to be done with the other. Or maybe Deasy just decides he’s had enough and walks away.
Short of a performance evaluation, the only people who really get shortchanged are district voters. They’ll never get a full accounting from the school board members they elected of how they judged the good that Deasy brought to LA Unified against the issues they found untenable.
On Wednesday evening Steve Zimmer is quoted as saying that “Everybody thinks we (the board of ed) fired him last night …everybody that doesn’t know us.”