A turbulent year in LA Unified: Our top 11 stories of 2014
Craig Clough | December 18, 2014
The year 2014 was not a banner one in the history of the Los Angeles Unified School District. While there was positive news – in particular continued improvement in student achievement – the district often found itself the subject of increasingly negative headlines.
Here, in no particular order, are the top stories about LA Unified as reported this year by LA School Report.
Superintendent Deasy resigns
On Oct. 15, LA School Report broke the news that John Deasy was going to resign the next day as superintendent of LA Unified. Although his future with the district had been openly debated for weeks, the news still rocked the education world to the core and made headlines around the country. Despite his eagerness to help students with the greatest need, his departure was viewed as a victory by those who opposed his centralized style of management.
Key Deasy resignation stories: Breaking News: LAUSD makes it official, Deasy steps down; Ratliff: lone vote on school board against Deasy settlement; Caputo-Pearl insists Deasy’s resignation not a victory for UTLA; In resignation letter, Deasy ‘overwhelmed with pride’
Deasy’s departure was a reflection of a general retrenchment of school reform advocacy in 2014. The teachers union showed a strong hand at local and state level in elections this year while reform advocates suffered not only the loss of Deasy but also reform candidate Marshall Tuck in his bid to unseat Tom Torlakson as state Superintendent of Public Instruction. The shift occurred at the local board level, too, with the election of George McKenna, who defeated a candidate, Alex Johnson, heavily supported by charter schools.
Key reform stories: In words of congratulations, Zimmer blasts ‘reform billionaires’; Tuck, in defeat: In California, ‘a growing call for change’; Reaction to Deasy resignation as polarizing as his tenure; McKenna victory gives appearance of a pro-teacher union board.
Cortines returns for a 3rd time
After Deasy’s resignation, the school board quickly turned to a familiar face to lead the district on an interim basis. Ramon Cortines came back for a third stint as LAUSD superintendent and quickly went about business. He made a number of sharp turns in district policy and made key personnel changes that signaled he did not intend to remain a passive caretaker while the district searched for a permanent superintendent.
Key Cortines stories: Cortines on returning the LAUSD a third time: ‘They called my bluff’; Cortines lifts LAUSD ban on Parent Trigger enacted by Deasy; Cortines ends meetings that take staff out of classrooms; Despite board approval, Cortines opposes bond money for iPads; Cortines finalizes reshuffling of MiSiS leadership team; For Cortines and UTLA, class size reduction is LAUSD priority.
iPads, iPads, iPads – and the FBI
Deasy’s grand vision to get a computer tablet into the hands of every student and teacher in LA Unified rapidly and dramatically unraveled, in the process, making his continued stewardship of the district untenable. Significant problems with the rollout of the $1.3 billion program, as well as serious questions about the bidding process, led to Deasy’s canceling it in August. In early December, the FBI confiscated documents related to the bid as part of a grand jury investigation, leaving the ill-fated program likely to continue making headlines well into 2015.
Key iPad stories: Deasy cancels Apple contract, starts new bidding; LAUSD says concerns cited in iPad report were expected; JUST IN: FBI raids LA Unified offices, seizes iPad documents; Cortines halts iPad program in face of FBI investigation; Federal probe into LA Unified procurement a first, says lawyer.
The districtwide implementation of the MiSiS computer system was an unmitigated disaster, more evidence that the district could not handle a technology project of such magnitude. Intended to streamline the process of scheduling and record keeping, the program exposed glitches that have cost the district millions, cost senior district employees their jobs and contributed to scheduling and transcript nightmares. And it won’t be fixed anytime soon despite all-out efforts to get the system running properly. Superintendent Cortines has now said it will not be entirely functional for another year.
Key MiSiS stories: LA Unified board considers more money for MiSiS, classrooms, cops; Feds joining LAUSD’s effort to help solve issues with MiSiS; LAUSD bond panel OKs another $25 million for MiSiS, devices; Long-awaited LAUSD report calls MiSiS ‘grossly inadequate’; Cortines tells LA Unified board MiSiS fix needs another year.
The state of California was rocked with the judge’s ruling in June. In a lawsuit brought by students, including some from LAUSD, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down five state statutes governing teacher employment, ruling that they violate the California constitution by denying students access to a quality public education. In one highly-controversial 16-page decision, Judge Treu wrote a template for other states’ seeking changes and threw into doubt the future of teacher tenure, dismissal and layoffs across California.
Key Vergara stories: Vergara ruling stands, judge rules in final review; Vergara sisters recall the teachers who inspired them to sue; Vergara ruling gets mixed reaction from school board; Teachers’ unions vow to fight Vergara decision, others celebrate.
Another chapter was added to the George McKenna story on Aug. 12 when he won the special school board election, defeating Alex Johnson in a runoff with over 53 percent of the vote. McKenna was widely seen as a friendly voice for teachers, whose union provided the vast majority of his financial support. The special election for the District 1 seat was held as a result of the passing of late board member Marguerite LaMotte. In just a few months on the board, McKenna has seasoned his remarks in debate with lessons learned over decades as a school administrator.
Key McKenna stories: George McKenna; McKenna is the union candidate, but CTA gave to Johnson backers; McKenna victory gives appearance of a pro-teacher union board; The race is on for 4 LA Unified board seat elections in 2015.
One of the ugliest chapters in the history of LAUSD came to a close on Nov. 21 when the district settled with the remaining victims of former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, who was convicted in 2013 of 23 counts of lewd conduct on a child. The $139 million settlement was a record for the district and drew the ire of district critics who complained that the money would have been better spent for assets like teachers and other school personnel.
Key Miramonte stories: Miramonte settlement is largest ever involving LAUSD; Jury selection resumes in Miramonte case as settlement talks continue; LA Unified says it followed the law in handling abuse reports.
On April 29, Alex Caputo-Pearl was elected president of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union that represents LAUSD educators. His landslide victory over incumbent Warren Fletcher signaled a major change in direction for UTLA toward more aggressive tactics and tone. Since taking office in July, Caputo-Pearl has pushed hard for getting more teachers involved in issues that affect them, drawn up a multi-faceted list of demands for a new labor contract with the district and started preparing teachers for the possibility of a strike if he fails in achieving the bargaining goals he has set out to win.
Key Caputo-Pearl stories: JUST IN: Caputo-Pearl wins decisively for UTLA president; Caputo-Pearl: The teachers’ view from the new union president; Strike talk emerges on Caputo-Pearl’s first day as union chief; In State of the Union, Caputo-Pearl hints at strike, targets Deasy; Caputo-Pearl asks energetic UTLA rally: ‘Are you ready for a fight?’
The debate about the positive or negative impact charter schools operating on the same campus with district schools played out in a very literal way as difficulties among in several locations of co-habitation led to friction and even physical violence. The conflicts have drawn differences between charters and traditional schools into sharp focus, giving each side ammunition for the rightness of their cause.
Key co-location stories: 2 LAUSD schools work amiably in solving their co-location issues; Westside charter school finally finds a new home, or two; Zimmer: LAUSD ‘culture war’ over co-locations on the west side; Stoner parents win, LAUSD removes co-located charter; LAUSD reports increase in charter school co-location approvals.
Amid all the negativity, there was positive news coming out of LAUSD this year. Graduation rates went up while dropout rates fell, leading to yet more controversy over who actually deserves credit — the board and administrative personnel who create new approaches to instruction or teachers charged with carrying out the every-day challenges of teaching.
Key student achievement stories: LAUSD sees big jump in graduation rates, early results show; LA Unified graduation rates are up, dropout rates are down; LA Unified reports LA Unified reports graduation rates up by double digits up by double digits.