Superintendent Cortines hired for another year to lead LA Unified
Vanessa Romo | May 13, 2015
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Superintendent Ramon Cortines is putting off retirement for another year.
The LA Unified school board yesterday voted unanimously to extend Cortines’s contract through the end of the 2015-16 school year. Terms of the deal are still under review, “but nothing, including salary, was expected to change from the previous pact,” district officials said in a statement. The agreement will become public once the deal is finished.
The district spokesman, Tom Waldman, said Cortines declined to comment on his decision to stay another year.
Cortines, who turns 83 in July, came out of retirement to serve as interim leader of the district for a third term after John Deasy resigned in October 2014 amid a disastrous technology roll out and accusations of shady business dealings with Apple and Pearson.
The decision to hire Cortines, who had led the district twice before as superintendent, was unanimous and happened swiftly at a time when the seven member board appeared deeply divided on most issues. Since then the board has rallied around him and his efforts to bring order to a district awash in controversy.
“He came out of retirement to save the district, and I believe he’s done that,” board member Mónica Ratliff told LA School Report.
“I fully supported extending the Superintendent’s contract because I think he has been amazing,” she added.
Board member Steve Zimmer also praised Cortines saying, “The stability and leadership that the superintendent provides is essential for all students, all programs, all schools, all families.”
“I never thought in my life that I would witness this level of commitment from any single person,” Zimmer added. “I believe he sets the bar for public service both here and across the nation.”
Looking ahead, Zimmer says another year with Cortines at the helm will bring a long-awaited stability to the district. It will also have him in place as board members turn to finding a long-term successor for the position, a process that could take months.
Immediately after stepping back into office last fall, Cortines initiated a flurry of changes to “get things back on track.” Among the first orders of business was halting the district’s controversial iPads-for-all program, which many contend is what lead to Deasy’s harried departure. Eventually, Cortines terminated the contract with tablet-maker Apple and its software partner, Pearson. Just last month he demanded a refund from the latter company for failing to deliver a complete and effective software curriculum. Pearson stock plummeted following the announcement.
Cortines also moved quickly to steady the chaos created by MISIS, a student management software system developed in-house that left tens of thousands of students without class assignments and teachers unable to record attendance or grades for several months. To date he’s allocated upwards of $80 million to fix the program’s myriad glitches.
To remedy the high profile fiascos, Cortines made a slew of organizational changes within the district’s hierarchy, which led to several demotions and resignations during his first month on the job. And he has continued to reshuffle top-level administrators as more Deasy-era appointments exit the district.
The renewal of his contract was made in a closed session that preceded the school board’s regular meeting, which included the adoption of a new contract with the teachers union, the first in many years.
The three-year agreement provides UTLA members with a 10.4 percent raise over two years beginning in July. It also reduces class size for students in grades 8 through 9, expands counseling services and changes the teacher evaluation system and educator reassignments.
The board approved the deal despite the added deficit it will cause in next year’s budget as well as in the following two years.
Megan Reilly, the district’s Chief Financial Officer, who is required to justify the expenditure to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, told the board,”My signature certifies that there are funds available in the 2014-15 year but it does not certify there are the 2015-16 funds.”
But that is almost guaranteed to change by the end of the week when Governor Jerry Brown produces an updated state budget. Legislative analysts have predicted a surge in revenue anywhere from $2 billion to $3 billion above earlier projections, and the greatest beneficiaries of the cash injection will be public schools.
As the largest district in the state, LA Unified could receive an extra $220 million to $330 million in one-time funds. That is more than enough to cover the added costs of the raises for teachers and other labor partners entitled to adjustments in pay through their “me too” clauses, which allow parity with any union that negotiates for a better deal.
A resolution aiming to mitigate an imminent crisis in graduation rates across the district was surprisingly stalled, much to the consternation of its sponsors, Mónica García and Zimmer.
A policy adopted 10 years ago known as A through G demands that students pass a series of college prep courses to make them eligible for enrollment in UC and CSU schools with a grade of “C” or better. But data made public by the district in March found that only 37 percent of the Class of 2017, the first cohort required to meet the new standards, will meet the bar.
The dismal forecast explains the timing of the resolution, which would have launched a four-month audit of the A through G implementation strategies, explained Zimmer. It also seeks to create an intervention plan for schools failing to provide adequate access and compels the district to devise an Individual Graduation Plan for all seniors who are struggling to meet the new standards.
But an amendment to the motion added on Monday prompted board member George McKenna to call for postponing any action.
“I just found out this morning that we had a special meeting about this,” McKenna said, clearly exasperated about the changes to the document. “And reading it is not the same as analyzing it.”
McKenna’s strongest objection to the resolution is language in the original policy stating that students must earn a grade of “C” or better in all college-prep courses or they can not receive a diploma.
“I am opposed to the requirement of a ‘C’ grade to get a diploma,” he said. “A ‘D’ is a passing grade no matter what UC or Cal State [schools] say.”
Despite McKenna’s objection, Garcia made no effort to clarify that the last-minute amendment would grant diplomas to “D” students for one more year.
“The amendment was for the Class of 2017 only,” Zimmer, co-sponsor of the resolution told LA School Report.
“I support elevating [the bar], but at the same time you can’t punish children for the failure of the system to provide the adequate resources, support and instruction needed to reach the aspiration,” he explained.
McKenna was joined in voting to postpone consideration of the measure to June byboard president Richard Vladovic, Bennett Kayser and Ratliff.
*Adds response from district that Cortines declined to comment.