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Deasy’s School Breakfast Gambit Confuses Supporters

Samantha Oltman | April 29, 2013

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On Thursday, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy unexpectedly announced that he was putting a controversial classroom breakfast program’s fate in the hands of the School Board.

The possible elimination of a program Southern California Public Radio described as “a political hot potato” presumably pleased the teachers union, which has long called for its end.

But Deasy’s plan to remove the program from his budget and force Board members to vote to restore it confused and displeased some BIC supporters.

“It’s not my favorite strategy,” School Board President Monica Garcia told the LA Times. “But I understand choices have to be made.”.

“I get what he wants to do,” Courtni Pugh, head of the 45,000-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99, told LA School Report. “He keeps saying he wants to save the program, so we have the same goal. But I would have gone about it differently.”

Word about the Deasy gambit started trickling out on Thursday, and then in an interview published Friday morning in the LA Times, Deasy said he wanted BIC reinstated, but only if the Board takes “maximum responsibility.”

“The program is going to have to be cut unless the Board votes to keep it,” Deasy told the paper. “UTLA made it very clear about how this program is a big problem.”

As LA School Report described last week, UTLA has offered a teacher survey as evidence to bolster its argument that serving low-income students breakfast in the classroom is a disruptive and messy process that teachers opposed.

However, the sample of teachers who responded to the UTLA was small — only 729 compared to 10,000 classrooms participating in the program — and of those teachers who responded only a little over 400 said they had complaints with the program.

Deasy’s maneuver took many education stakeholders off guard, as Deasy has championed the implementation of the program since it was first tried out two years ago.

“I don’t think that Superintendent Deasy wants to eliminate the program,” explained School Board president Monica Garcia in a LA Daily News story. “I think he’s asking the Board to affirm whether a program that has more kids eating breakfast and getting to school on time and putting more people to work – should we continue this.”

Others weren’t so circumspect about the decision or the process of unveiling it.

“We heard through a memo,” SEIU’s Pugh told LA School Report.

“We are disheartened that Superintendent John Deasy would consider ending a program that is successfully tackling the difficult issues of hunger and poverty in our schools,” said Pugh in a written statement. (Read it here.)  “In these difficult economic times, the program has already saved thousands of cafeteria jobs. And as the program continues to be implemented, more jobs will be saved.”

Pugh admitted that BIC is not perfect because it’s just started and is a large operation to implement. “But I wholeheartedly believe the pros outweigh the cons,” said Pugh. “You don’t throw away a program when 77 percent of the kids in LAUSD qualify for reduced price lunch, and 91 percent of kids of color do.”

Putting the decision in the hands of the School Board is an interesting political move on Deasy’s part. Board members, many of whom have received financial backing from SEIU, UTLA (or both) will likely feel pressure from each union as they weigh whether to ax a program that feeds hungry students breakfast.

When asked if she knows where Board members stand on BIC, Pugh wasn’t willing to talk about individuals, but she did say, “Not the entire School Board will be supporting BIC… But we’re in a situation that we’re in now, and we’re not going to back down from a fight.”

SEIU Local 99 plans to mobilize its members; it’s already scheduled an April 30 rally to support BIC. (See event details here.)

Board members will have to decide to reinstate the program or let it expire at the May 14 Board meeting.

In a press release sent out Friday afternoon, Deasy sounded assured that his plan will work out for the program, writing, “I’m confident that at its May 14 meeting, the Board of Education will enthusiastically and unanimously vote to continue funding Breakfast in the Classroom.”

UTLA Vice-President Juan Ramirez told the LA Times Friday that the union won’t support BIC unless some of its demands, including moving breakfast out of the classroom, are met.

Previous posts: Classroom Breakfast Expanding Despite Some Complaints; Teachers Vote Against Deasy, For More Teachers; April Vote Will Highlight Union Factions

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