Deasy Staying; Board Extends Contract through June 2016*
Vanessa Romo | October 29, 2013
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John Deasy‘s tenure as superintendent of LA Unified School District is continuing as the school board today gave him a “satisfactory” performance evaluation and extended his contract to June, 30, 2016.
The announcement, after nearly five hours of a closed door meeting at the district’s downtown headquarters, ended five frenetic days of uncertainty that began with a leaked report suggesting that Deasy was resigning.
To the contrary, when he and the seven board members emerged from their meeting, both the board’s president, Richard Vladovic, and Deasy spoke of “frank and honest discussions,” as Vladovic described them, and they vowed to collaborate on the challenges ahead.
“We’re going to work together to continue to lift our youth out of poverty,” Deasy said in his brief statement. “I’ve very proud of the work we’ve done for students and what we’re going to continue to do for students.”
David Holmquist, the district’s chief legal counsel, who announced the contract extension, offered no other details. Officials said specific terms of the arrangement would be made public once a final document is signed. If any vote were taken in the private session, the results were not released, although by terms of Deasy’s original contract, a “satisfactory” evaluation triggers an automatic extension.
Neither Holmquist, Vladovic, Deasy nor other board members took questions, and Vladovic gaveled the meeting adjourned, despite loud protests of people in the audience who wanted to address the board.
Deasy supporters wasted little time expressing joy and relief.
“We’re happy that the superintendent is staying on,” said Courtni Pugh, executive director of SEIU Local 99, the union representing school support personnel. “We’ll continue to work with him. We believe continuity is a good thing for students, parents and for LAUSD.”
She added, that the fact it was ” hard for the board to figure this out reflects how hard this is — we all must struggle together to make this work.”
David F. Welch, founder of Students Matter, a group that fights for educational quality, said his organization is “pleased and relieved” that Deasy was retained, adding, “We hope the Board can put aside its political differences with the Superintendent to focus on moving forward and clearing the toxic political climate currently distracting from the needs of Los Angeles’ students.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement he was pleased with the board’s decision but cautioned that much work remains.
“Progress in the district will depend on all parties making our students the priority,” he said. “I am committed to accountability at the district, a voice for teachers and parents, and working with Superintendent Deasy and the board to get our children career and college ready.”
Not so enthused was Warren Fletcher, president of the teachers union, UTLA, who had urged the board to part ways with Deasy. He called it a “sad day.”
“It is unbelievable,” he said in a statement, “that the Board of Education has given John Deasy a ‘satisfactory’ evaluation and rewarded him by extending his contract through June, 2016, despite a clear message from LA’s teachers and health and human services professionals that Deasy’s leadership is anything but satisfactory.”
As Deasy’s staunchest adversary, Fletcher was first to go public last week, bidding him an un-fond farewell shortly after talk about resignation gained steam. Clearly, the union became today’s biggest loser.
The agreement between the board and Deasy ended all speculation, begun late last week, that Deasy was resigning over frustrations with a board cool to his policy initiatives. “Facts” of a pending departure backtracked to speculation, speculation became rumor, and rumors melted into guesses. Nobody knew for sure what he would do, and Deasy remained tight-lipped.
In the hours before the announcement, a board source leaked the draft of a document purported to be Deasy’s request for separation, in which he offered to remain in office through February, then serve as a consultant through June 2015.
Meanwhile, the opposing sides dug in, with so many people arguing publicly for Deasy to stay that it finally seemed as if he would. Pro-Deasy groups held a rally, mailed letters and circulated a petition, all urging him to stay. Even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan weighed in, telling the LA Times that under Deasy “LA is absolutely going in the right direction.”
“I haven’t seen this much grassroots activism and engagement from civic leadership across the city since the passage of public school choice in 2009,” said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution. “Over the past 72 hours communities across Los Angeles have risen up with a simple message: don’t turn back the clock on progress for our kids. This is a turning point not just for the reform movement but for our district, our city and our future.”
During today’s speaker comment period before the closed door meeting, 16 people made remarks, with 13 of them expressing support for Deasy. Among the others were Fletcher and a former substitute teacher, Petrena Shankling, who described an unpleasant classroom encounter she had with Deasy a few years ago as a reason he should be dismissed.
Through all the speakers, most board members betrayed little of their sentiments regarding Deasy. Two exceptions were Bennett Kayser, who invited UTLA representatives to speak, and Marguerite LaMotte, who objected when time ran out on Shankling before she finished her testimony.
“We’ve had 20 people speaking for,” LaMotte said, referring to Deasy. “We ought to listen to this lady.”
In the end, though, not much changes. The same problems building to this evening’s announcement are still out there. Questions remain over how to smooth out the iPad rollout. Enormous disagreements persist over budget priorities. And by the results of Deasy’s performance review, he missed his mark on many district-wide improvement measures.
There is also the matter of peaceful co-existence with a board that often views him skeptically. Despite its apparent vote of confidence today, any détente will only be evident in how the members and Deasy negotiate though the sticky wickets of policy and, of course, how the board ultimately votes on his preferences.
An early indicator that it might be willing to give him breathing room came yesterday in remarks from Steve Zimmer, the board vice president, who summoned reporters to convey the message that he hopes Deasy would stay and a majority on the board want to work with him.
So, Deasy is staying. Whether the board works with him, as Vladovic promised, remains to be seen. In any case, by terms of the superintendent’s contract, he can quit and the board can fire him with as little as 30 days notice.
*Adds comment from Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Previous Posts: Is the Tide Turning? Scorecard Favors Deasy; Story of Deasy Media Frenzy in 15 Tweets; Zimmer: LA Unified Board Wants Deasy to Stay; Garcetti: LA Unified Board Has Been Overreaching its Power