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Analysis: Aquino’s Resignation Turns a Spotlight onto Deasy

Hillel Aron | September 16, 2013

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Superintendent Deasy

Superintendent Deasy

Jaime Aquino‘s surprise announcement Friday that he’ll resign from Superintendent John Deasy‘s staff at the end of the year has sent shockwaves throughout LA Unified. Tomorrow, the district school board will take up the matter in closed session.

It’s unclear what they’ll discus – but his impending departure has exposed the district and its fractured board to a number of sudden and burning questions, not least of which may be:

Is Deasy Next?

On election night in March, just as it was becoming clear that Steve Zimmer was going to hold off a tough challenge by Kate Anderson, I got an email from a semi-prominent school reformer, offering three bold pronoucements: there would be a new board president (there is), there would be a new makeup of the board (there is) and Deasy would be on his way out. My correspondent told me: “Enough board interference makes his job really unfun and he leaves for greener pastures.”

They were unusual predictions, coming as they did months before Monica Ratliff pulled off a shock upset against Antonio Sanchez. Deasy’s staff is certainly frustrated by the new makeup of the board, as evidenced by Aquino’s departure. When asked last Friday if he was thinking about resigning, Deasy declined to comment – an ominous response coming from the man who told LAUSD administrators little more than a month ago, “I and this administration are not going anywhere.”

And that’s just the first question awaiting resolution:

Who will replace Aquino?

Will it be another headstrong reformer? Or will it be someone a bit more palatable to the new ideological makeup of the school board? Will Deasy be given autonomy in the search for Aquino’s successor? Will the board insist on having input? Will there even be a replacement?

How will Vladovic respond?

The new board majority seems to have an affinity for process. They like asking questions. They like discussion. They like committees. So far, Board President Richard Vladovic has let the debate flow, showing little interest in speeding things up – in stark contrast to his predecessor, Monica Garcia. But with the slow pace of board action being partially blamed for Aquino’s departure, will Vladovic endeavor to speed things up, lest more senior staff resign?

Did Aquino have other reasons to quit?

“My heart is completely broken,” Aquino told the LA Daily News. “But the current climate doesn’t allow me to lead an agenda that is in the best interest of kids.”

There’s something a bit vague about that explanation. Was he frustrated by the slow pace of deliberation? By the workload created by incessant questions from various board members? Or by the new idealogical makeup of the board, whose budget priorities differ greatly from those of Deasy?

Some have suggested that Aquino might have other reasons for quitting – namely, for questions raised by the tablet computer procurement process, which led the district to enter into a deal with Apple for iPads with Pearson software for every student and teacher in LAUSD – at more than $600 a pop. Aquino has been criticized for his role in the process because he used to work for America’s Choice, which is owned by Pearson.

“There’s no question the procurement issues related to the iPads and the Pearson software is a significant part of this,” said former board member David Tokofsky.

Will the Common Core Rollout Get Even Bumpier?

Will Board members see Aquino as something of a “lame duck,” and take his recommendations less seriously than before? Will further elements of the district’s technology plan, as well as the transition to the Common Core curriculum, be called into question?

It could well turn out that Aquino’s resignation is only the first surprise.

Previous posts: Aquino’s Resignation Explanation; Deasy Deputy Jaime Aquino Resigns (Updated);  Aquino Sees Deeper Thinking but Falling Scores with Common CoreSenior District Employee Gives to Garcia

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