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Deasy in Danger? It Might Depend on Vladovic

Hillel Aron | March 5, 2013

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Much of the media coverage in the runup to today’s School Board primary election has focused on its possible impact on the fate of Superintendent John Deasy, who is appointed by the seven-member Board.

The focus isn’t all that surprising — Deasy is as charismatic as he is divisive. He makes for good copy. Indeed, the “Superintendent in Danger” view of the 2013 election may even have been encouraged by the Superintendent himself. As Steve Lopez noted in the LA Times, Deasy “seems to have convinced enough people that he may get ousted if this election doesn’t go his way.”

The outcome of the elections today — and, if necessary, on May 21 — could have enormous consequences for the direction of LAUSD.  But it’s not entirely clear that the elections will necessarily determine Deasy’s future.

Lopez calls the ouster of Deasy “an unlikely, long-shot scenario.” Others disagree vehemently.

The idea that Deasy’s job is on the line has been hard to avoid in recent newspaper accounts. Last week, a Howard Blume story in the Los Angeles Times noted, “Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy isn’t on the ballot Tuesday, but you’d hardly know it, based on the undercurrent of the school board election.” A Jennifer Medina story in the New York Times echoed a similar sentiment: “many here say they believe that Mr. Deasy could lose his job if the mayor’s slate of school board candidates loses.”

However, the main presupposition many in the media have been making is that three of the four School Board seats that are not up for re-election are held by Board members who would vote Deasy out if given the chance.

One of the four — Tamar Galatzan — is a strong Deasy supporter. Two of the others — Bennett Kayser and Marguerite Lamotte — are strong Deasy opponents.

That leaves the inscrutable Dr. Richard Vladovic of District 7, which covers San Pedro and South LA.

The key to grasping Deasy’s situation is his relationship with Dr. Richard Vladovic, the District 7 Board Member who’s not up for election this year.

Who’s side is Vladovic on?

That’s the question that no one seems to be able to answer definitively — and that Vladovic, who rarely shares his feelings publicly or to the press, seems unwilling to clarify.

“He’s been labeled to be on a particular side, but he’s not,” said an LAUSD insider who spoke on condition of not being identified. “You just can’t plan where he’s gonna be on a particular issue.”

Vladovic, a former teacher, principal and Superintendent of West Covina School District, is as independent-acting as his colleague Steve Zimmer.

But while Zimmer wears his emotions on his sleeve, Vladovic is much harder to read. People rarely know what he’s thinking until he speaks up at a Board meeting or cast a vote one way or the other.

If Vladovic is opposed to Deasy, then all UTLA-PACE needs is to win one of the three current seats.  If Vladovic supports Deasy, then UTLA-PACE has to pick up not just one but two seats — a much higher challenge.

Vladovic, bottom center, and Deasy, top right – via Joseph Mailander

Vladovic’s record is mixed when it comes to Deasy.

He voted and spoke for Deasy when Deasy was first named to head LAUSD back in 2011 – a vote from which Zimmer abstained.

We have chosen a great leader to follow in the footsteps of a great leader,” Vladovic is quoted as saying in the LA Daily News.

But then for a time things seem to have gone awry between the two men.

A source inside LAUSD said that Vladovic, at some point last year, made it known to other Board members that he wanted to get rid of Deasy.

In October 2012, the board voted 6-0 to extend Deasy’s contract one year. The missing vote? Dr. Vladovic.  The Times reported he left for “personal reasons.”

In December of the same year, Vladovic proposed that Deasy be required to get board approval before submitting grant applications — a requirement Deasy hated. ”Every grantor has an agenda,” said Vladovic at the time. “They superimpose an ideology on us.”

Last but not least, Vladovic objected to Deasy’s initial plan to give tablet computers to every student in LAUSD, arguing with Board President Monica Garcia that he thought teacher salaries should be a priority over technology.

Another LAUSD insider said that while tensions existed between the Superintendent and the enigmatic District 7 board member about six months ago, they’ve since patched things up, and that Vladovic would not vote to fire Deasy.

“He’s kind of hot and cold with Deasy,” said the source. “But it’s not to the point of firing at all. It’s more to the point of disagreeing over management. They argue. They’ve got philosophies that are different from time to time… Right now the guys are best friends.”

If Vladovic is now a Deasy supporter, than the anti-Deasy forces would need to replace both Monica Garcia and Antonio Sanchez. in order to have a solid four-vote coalition against Deasy. That would represent an enormous electoral upset.

The threshold for dismissing a superintendent can be a high one.  Finding a new superintendent is a hard and lengthy process. It’s can’t be done in a couple of weeks.

Of course, there are lots of things that Board members can do to make a Superintendent’s life miserable short of calling for immediate dismissal. Vladovic’s grant approval proposal is one example.  Board Member Steve Zimmer’s teacher evaluation proposals are another.

It’s also possible that Vladovic, like UTLA President Warren Fletcher, has been avoiding direct criticism of Deasy or any suggestion he might be ousted for short-term political reasons, rather than any real mending of the relationship.

Despite differences with Board members, the union, and some community leaders, Deasy has not become nearly as controversial or divisive as hard-charging superintendents in New York City or Washington DC have been.

Deasy himself declined to comment on the record about his having become a focal point in the election, saying only: “I’m not running for office.”

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