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Deasy on his critics: Constant attacks are ‘politically motivated’

Michael Janofsky | September 3, 2014

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Deasy comments on education politics

Superintendent John Deasy

Under withering criticism over the iPad program, a new student-tracking computer system and discordant relations with the teachers union, LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy said today that the attacks feel politically motivated at the expense of his agenda to improve the lives of district students.

“I serve at the pleasure of the board,” he said today in a wide-ranging interview with LA School Report. “If the board is not pleased, they can get rid of me at their pleasure.”

Asked if he would relieve them of that action by stepping down, he said, “I’m not prepared to answer that question.”

His tenure aside, Deasy said when he considers the acid tone of criticism over a confluence of issues, “I think it’s a troubling sign to me that the agenda is possibly no longer students. I had always assumed that the agenda was lifting students out of poverty. The agenda appears to be lifting Deasy out of LAUSD.”

The drumbeat of criticism is threatening to end a period of apparent comity and collegiality between Deasy and the school board that began last fall, shortly after it appeared that Deasy was resigning from a post he held since 2011.

Over the last 10 months or so, board meetings have played out with little of the tension that characterized previous meetings. Board President Richard Vladovic, especially, has shown a willingness to work closely and productively with Deasy.

But apparent unity could be cracking under the weight of problems with the iPad program and the bumpy implementation of a computer system that principals, teachers and parents rely on to track the progress and whereabouts of students.

Beyond that, Alex Caputo-Pearl, the new president of the teachers union, UTLA, has persisted in hammering Deasy over a wide range of issues, not least the district’s unwillingness to satisfy union demands for a 17.6 percent salary raise over the next two years.

The latest attack from the union came this morning at LA Unified headquarters, where union members staged a rally, calling for Deasy to be put in the same sort of “jail” that houses teachers who are pulled out of classrooms for reasons not made entirely clear to them.

Citing the district’s past efforts to deal with sexual predators in the classroom, which lead them to teacher “jail,” Deasy called the union’s rally “a terribly misguided effort to score political points.”

The iPad program has been a particular burden for Deasy, with almost daily accusations that he and a former lieutenant, Jaime Aquino, acted illegally, unethically or immorally in securing contracts with Apple and Pearson.

“It feels like a witch hunt,” Deasy said. “And people are feeding this.”

Two investigations into the bidding process — one by the district Inspector General and a second by the LA County District Attorney—  cleared him and Aquino of any improprieties.

Yet a series of emails released last week between Deasy and Aquino and the companies before the bid process has fueled new suspicions that they rigged the bid for Apple and Pearson to win it.

Board members Monica Ratliff and Bennett Kayser are introducing a measure at the next board meeting, on Sept. 9, asking that the Inspector General’s report be made public. Several board members say they would support a new investigation by the Inspector General into the pre-bid period.

In a six-page memo Deasy sent yesterday to board members, he outlined his actions regarding the iPad program before and during the bid process and defended them as proper business procedure. He reiterated his position to LA School Report, saying conversations with potential vendors prior to bids are routine for any purchase the district makes.

“If I want to buy rugs, I go to a company and say let me use them in the classroom for five months before I commit to buying them,” Deasy said. “It’s common industry practice.”

He referred specifically to an email urging the companies to make the lowest bid. “Damn sure I urged them to make a lowest bid,” he said. “Can you imagine the response if I had urged them to make the highest bid?”

He also said he had conversations with other vendors although the district has not released any emails or other communications confirming that.

In any case, his defenses have done little to quiet critics. Chief among them has been Ratliff, who as chair of the Common Core Technology Project Committee, presented her own overview of the iPad program, enumerating its failings and making recommendations for going forward.

As for the student-tracking computer system, Deasy conceded that criticisms were “very valid,” that the district has been working on it for years and “we’ve got to get this to a place where we do this better.”

As the board meets again next week, will the old animosites break into view?

“I don’t want them to,” Deasy said. “But that’s up to the board.”

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