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In Vote to Keep Deasy, an Abstention Remains a Mystery

Michael Janofsky | November 21, 2013

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Board Member Monica Ratliff: No vote

Board Member Monica Ratliff: No vote

The LA Unified board’s recent 5-1 vote on Superintendent John Deasy’s performance evaluation, released by the district on Tuesday after requests from several media outlets, cast a curious light on board member sentiments during a period of enormous challenge and contentiousness.

Two of the five votes were entirely expected: Monica Garcia and Tamar Galatzan are consistently supportive of Deasy in words and votes.

The three other votes to approve came from frequent critics – President Richard Vladovic, Steve Zimmer and Bennett Kayser – whose support seemed to signal at least a temporary Kumbaya moment, that they are willing to work with Deasy for the time being even if they disagree on one policy issue or another.

Those five kept him in office, with a contract extension through mid-2016.

Marguerite LaMotte was the lone dissenter, which was not considered a surprise. With close ties to the teachers union, UTLA, she is a strong opponent of Deasy-style reform, and as an aide to one board member said, “The shock would have been if she had voted for him.”

LaMotte’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The real head scratcher was the board’s newest member, Monica Ratliff. She abstained.

In just six months, Ratliff has shown to be an immersive force on the board, diving deeply into issues that she cares about and expressing herself always with unambiguous language.

As a former lawyer and teacher, she asks lots of questions and as chair of the Common Core Technology Project Committee, she almost single-handedly forced the district to reconsider the massive iPad program, raising the entirely credible proposition that high school kids might be served better by laptops than iPads.

But when it has come to Deasy, she has equivocated. Early in her election campaign for the board, she told LA School report that she would “terminate his contract and suggest we do another search” in which he could be a candidate.

A month later, when the LA Times’ editorial board was reconsidering its endorsement of her, she told the editorial board that she had spoken in response to complaints that Deasy was hired without a search and that her words were taken out of context. She went on to say if she were in a position to decide on Deasy’s contract at that time, she would vote to renew it.

That was April. Six months later, on Oct. 29, when the opportunity came — in what several board staffers described as the single most important vote a board member could take –something apparently had changed again. She passed.

Why? Hard to know. Ratliff did not respond to several efforts to reach her for comment.

A staffer for another board member wondered why any member would decline to vote on an issue so critical to the operation and future of the school district, approval of the superintendent.

On the other hand, a former board member speculated that Ratliff simply decided not voting was preferable to voting no and appearing as an outward antagonist when the outcome was assured, anyway.

“Boards prefer that their votes are unanimous,” the former member said. “ So a 5-to-1 vote looks better than a 5-to-2 vote. It’s a pro-institutional thing, the team approach.”

Previous Posts: Ratliff is seeking alternatives to using iPads in LA Unified’s futureSchool Board Candidate Praises Deasy’s Efforts to Limit Tenure; District 6 Candidate Hardens Position on Deasy Leadership

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