Monday, August 19, 2013


By Barbara Jones, Los Angeles Daily News |

LAUSD board President Richard Vladovic and Superintendent John Deasy meet at Starbucks in San Pedro to discuss Tuesday's board agenda. (Photo by Barb Jones / Los Angeles Daily News)


8/18/13, 3:28 PM PDT  ::  The new president of the Los Angeles Unified school board is moving aggressively to reshape the panel’s operation and mission, including plans to improve communication, enhance collaboration and take a more decisive stance in setting district policy.

Richard Vladovic of San Pedro will lay out his vision Tuesday, the first board meeting of the school year and the first since a majority of his colleagues chose him as president. Those goals incorporate a host of new committees and a calendar of weekly meetings wherein he wants members to study, discuss and debate complex issues. He also wants members to decide which issues to tackle rather than taking their cues from Superintendent John Deasy, the strong-willed schools chief who has butted heads with Vladovic and his teachers union-backed board allies over efforts to reform the district.

“I want us to be proactive rather than reactive and have very thorough, robust debate,” said Vladovic, a career educator who has been on the board since 2007. “I want to be policy makers rather than problem solvers.”

At the same time, he noted he’s been trying to ease tensions with Deasy, whose job security came into question when Vladovic gained more political clout. “We’re talking more than ever before,” Vladovic said in an interview last week at a coffee shop in San Pedro, shortly before Deasy himself arrived to review Tuesday’s agenda.

“Our priorities don’t always agree, but life is all about compromise, and we’re both working on that,” Vladovic added. “There’s the rule of unintended consequences — the ripple effect — of any decision. We’re exploring the ripples.”

Deasy later confirmed that he and Vladovic are making an effort to overcome their past differences. “He and I are very focused on the work of educating children, and we’re trying to model cooperation,” he said. “We prefer little or no drama.”

Vladovic’s desire to exert more control first surfaced in December, when he pushed through a resolution requiring the board to review applications for grants of more than $1 million. At the time, he was upset that Deasy had applied for and won a $50 million grant that required the district to develop a merit-pay system for educators and use student test scores in performance evaluations — controversial issues opposed by the teachers union.

He called for greater transparency in running the district and reiterated it as he laid out his plan for creating a more open and inclusionary system.

On Tuesday, Vladovic will announce his appointments to the board’s Budget and Curriculum committees, which were revived in 2011 after a two-year hiatus.

He plans to ask members to join a number of new ad-hoc panels, including one tasked with increasing parent involvement in their children’s education. He wants separate committees to handle issues related to the new Common Core learning standards for math and English, as well as the technology involved in implementing the curriculum.

He also proposes a committee to “bring clarity” to the district’s Adult Education program, which was decimated during the five-year recession as LAUSD used money from career training to backfill a deficit in its K-12 operation. Although classes were curtailed, the program’s enrollment still tops 250,000 students.

“I want to have more classes where people can get certified and get a job,” Vladovic said in last week’s interview. “And as part of immigration reform, I want to look at English learners and family literacy. I think there’s a lot we can do.”

He noted he’s been meeting with Mayor Eric Garcetti, who made workforce development a major platform in his campaign.

Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said city and district leaders want to create an employment “pipeline” by aligning education and job training with the needs of L.A.’s employers.

“We need to figure out the most efficient way to deliver services, using the city, the school district and the community colleges,” he said. “It’s not about turf battles or politics. We want our students to be prepared for careers or college, so how do we physically align these things?”

Vladovic is creating a Committee of the Whole — essentially a working group of all seven board members — which will meet for discussion and debate the Tuesday after their regular monthly session.

He has appointed member Steve Zimmer, his vice president, to chair the panel and empowered him to tackle any topic he wants.

“This is our chance to really be policy makers and to really try to dig deep into major policy decisions — in L.A., of course, and beyond L.A.,” Zimmer said. “We’ve been crisis managers the last five years, trying to help public education survive. Frankly, I believe the board has engaged in very important policy issues, but mostly these decisions have been in response to issues brought by the superintendent or by partners in the community. This gives us the chance to study policy and have a much more public conversation about transforming our system.”

Some of the issues Zimmer wants to tackle have come up for discussion before, such as ensuring student progress in the tougher college-prep curriculum and how to integrate the arts into academic subjects.

But he also wants to study the structure of middle school — whether K-8 span schools would be a better option, for instance — and whether environmental sustainability should be incorporated into the district’s procurement process.

The addition of the various committees means board members will be meeting every Tuesday at district headquarters downtown. The board’s executive sessions, previously held before the regular meeting, will instead precede the Committee of the Whole session, a shift Vladovic said will make it easier for board members to deal with time-consuming discussions about student expulsions, personnel and litigation.

He will have department heads and local superintendents attend the regular monthly meetings so they can be available to respond to board members’ or parents’ concerns about, say, special education or school safety.

Zimmer, a UTLA ally who has also voiced support for Deasy, discounted any notion that the shift in the board’s role is an attack on the superintendent .

“I’ve always said very, very clearly that the district does best for kids when there are checks and balances between the superintendent and the board. That’s the way the best policy gets created. I don’t think anything is indicative of tensions or anything like it. I see this much more as a very collaborative process and a very healthy way to organize things. I think it’s totally positive.”

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