Commentary: Mayor Garcetti’s elephant in the room

Via KPCC

Via KPCC

In his first State of the City speech, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti laid out a plan to boost job creation, safety and the city’s ability to compete in a global economy.

Noticeably absent, however, was any mention of the vast education challenges facing the city.

The Mayor’s vision of Los Angeles was notable for its optimism and his passion. And the half-hour speech (transcript here) was heavy on specifics — including a focus on neighborhood improvements, DWP rates and carpool lanes. He cited how he “pushed and prodded” the feds to open a lane on the 405 earlier than expected, and he pledged to “pave more streets and fix more sidewalks.”

But wait, is he talking . . . potholes?

I couldn’t help but flash back to my home town, Chicago, where the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, ran the city with an iron fist for more than 20 years in the 60s and 70s. Boss Daley knew how to fill a pothole, but sadly, at the same time he presided over a disastrous decline in the city’s pubic education system.

Mayor Garcetti’s goal, of “building a better city,” while admirable, is ultimately not achievable without addressing the elephant in the room — education — and his hands-off approach is bad for students, parents and ultimately the economy. The recent departure of Thelma Melendez, who carried the title of education deputy but in practice was almost invisible makes matters worse. And, so far, he hasn’t named a replacement.

Granted, the mayor’s office in Los Angeles officially exerts very little control over the vast LA Unified School District, run by an often fractured seven-member elected board. But that didn’t stop Garcetti’s predecessors from using the bully pulpit to try and enhance the educational opportunities for city students. The outgoing Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who considered improving public education his mission, devoted a large portion of his 2013 State of the City address to education and saw it as vitally linked to job-growth and the economy.

The district is slowly improving, but challenges like high dropout rates and low student achievement are so profound that it’s hard to argue that all hands should not be on deck, especially those of the mayor.

And the excuse of not having mayoral control? Well, the last time I looked, the mayor doesn’t have much influence on the 405 federal highway project, either.

Analysis: Hudley-Hayes resume raises more than red flags

Genethia Hudley-Hayes

Genethia Hudley-Hayes

Rather than jump to conclusions in the case of allegations first reported here earlier this month, that a LA Unified School Board candidate, Genethia Hudley-Hayes, has numerous inaccuracies in her resume, we at LA School Report embarked on our own due-diligence.

What we found were a series of repeated conflicts and inconsistencies over a number of years, without any apparent attempt to publicly set the record straight, thus posing serious questions about her candidacy for LA Unified school board race on June 3.

The controversy first came to light when campaign staff for Alex Johnson, one of her opponents, approached the Hudley-Hayes campaign before the filing deadline, recommending she drop out quietly for what his campaign calls “a pattern of pattern of academic falsification.” (See story here). Instead, Hudley-Hayes, a longtime civic leader and public servant, responded publicly that she would not be “bullied” out of the race. (See story here).

To get to the bottom, our own reporters have done their best to verify, independently, the accuracy of her current resume and her past biographies. Here are the inconsistencies LA School Report has found:
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Analysis: Zimmer takes center stage in LAUSD drama

zimmerfourEmerging as something of a Shakespearean figure, LA Unified School Board trustee Steve Zimmer took central stage earlier this week at a long board meeting complete with its share of sound and fury.

Zimmer, facing one of the most challenging moments in his political career, had been publicly cryptic about his position on the evening’s big decision: whether the vacant seat on the board left by the sudden death of Marguerite LaMotte should be filled by a board appointment or special election.

Ever since an election last spring created a board more sympathetic with positions of the teachers union, Zimmer has played an increasingly pivotal role on the fractured board, leaving him somewhat stuck in the middle. While he was re-elected last year with big support from the union’s super PAC, Zimmer nonetheless recently stepped in to help save Superintendent John Deasy’s job- a move that couldn’t have gone down well with union leadership that has made no secret of wanting Deasy’s head.

This week, as a critical vote on a split board, Zimmer appeared sympathetic and earnest, repeating multiple times that he came to listen to the packed room — filled with members of the South Los Angeles community who made impassioned pleas both in favor of an appointment and an election. Continue reading

Filling LaMotte Seat by Election or Appointment? Board is Decider

LaMotteIf history is any guide, a school board election is in the offing.

As officials at the LA Unified school board scramble to work out options with the city and county on how best to fill the school board seat left vacant last week by the sudden death of longtime member Marguerite LaMotte, they are weighing elements of timing, tradition and of course, politics.

The law relating to vacancies on the school board, written into the LA City Charter, clearly lays out two options for the school board: appoint a replacement or call a special election.

And while appointing someone may seem simpler, cheaper and faster, doing so has big liabilities.

Politics
For one, it’s dangerous politically. The seat for school board district 1, which encompasses a wide swath of south LA, extending from Hancock Park to Gardena, has been held continuously by a black woman since 1979. That was the first year board members were no longer elected at-large, a change brought about in part because the black community argued it was under-represented electorally. So having the school board hand-pick an appointee raises red flags in the black community, which is already voicing concerns.

Tradition
For another, there’s a long tradition of vacancies being filled by election, not appointment. City council seats — which are frequently vacated by members seeking higher office — have uniformly been filled by special election. The last long term appointment was in 1966.

Timeline
But calling a special election takes consensus, too. The last time a special election was called by the school board was when Jose Huizer vacated his seat after being elected to city council in 2005.

Screen shot 2013-12-08 at 11.49.34 PMThat year, the school board fast-tracked a special election in late November by giving notice and approving a motion (seconded by LaMotte) to hold a stand-alone primary the following March and consolidating with a statewide election for a run-off in June 2006.

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Villaraigosa Helped Broker Deal to Keep Deasy Superintendent

Dr. John Deasy, and Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011 |Richard Vogel/AP

John Deasy, Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011

LA School Report has learned the deal to extend the contract of LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy might not have been possible without the involvement of former LA mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa.

According to three people with knowledge of events, none of whom would speak for attribution, Villaraigosa made a flurry of calls to both Deasy and Board President Richard Vladovic to help broker a deal. The calls continued through yesterday, just before the board went into a closed-door session that ended with the announcement that Deasy’s contract would extend to mid-2016.

Meanwhile, Villaraigosa’s successor, Eric Garcetti told reporters today that he had spoken to all the parties and discussed the matter with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said on Monday he believed Deasy and the board should continue to work together.

Garcetti said he had also spoken to “almost all the board members” in an effort to help Deasy remain in his job. He said he told Deasy he supported him and would “do everything I can” to help resolve the situation.

“I was hopeful he’d stay,” Garcetti said.

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Story of Deasy Media Frenzy in 15 Tweets

imagesNo matter what happens later today when LA Unified superintendent John Deasy is set to emerge from a closed-door session with school board members to discuss his future, the events leading up to this moment remain murky. Will we ever know if Deasy is being pushed out, resigning or something in between?

One thing is clear: a story posted on the LA Times website last Thursday, stating as fact that Deasy was ‘to resign’ set off a twitter frenzy, despite the fact that, well, it wasn’t entirely true. Exactly what transpired last Thursday between John Deasy and the school board president Richard Vladovic may never be revealed — but what we do know is the media moved from certainty to rumor in what we might call a twitter-u-turn:

 

 

 

 
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Commentary: “A Dangerous Game for UTLA”

 

(Published in today’s Los Angeles Times)

Ousting Supt. John Deasy, as the union wants, would hurt students.

by Jamie Alter Lynton

The leadership of the Los Angeles teachers union recently conducted a survey among its members asking if they had confidence in Los Angeles Unified Supt. John Deasy. Although it was highly unusual for the union to mount this kind of frontal attack on the superintendent, the maneuver wouldn’t have raised eyebrows had it not been for the union’s full-court press to influence the vote. Not only did the union send out misleading information about Deasy’s record, it also posted unflattering, juvenile caricatures of him on its website.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise when the vote went overwhelmingly against Deasy. But it almost certainly left a lot of people in Los Angeles wondering what the superintendent had done to raise the union’s wrath.

There’s no question that the forceful and popular superintendent is shaking things up: In two years, he has pushed the Los Angeles Unified School District, one of the lowest-performing districts in the country, toward significant progress. He has promoted ideas that are good for students, such as expanding school choice through charters and other options. He has pushed to improve the quality of teaching and administration, in part through developing a fair measure of teacher performance and finding ways to keep good teachers, not just those with seniority. Some of these ideas are new to Los Angeles, but they are hardly radical and are all supported by the Obama administration and top educators across the country.

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Commentary: Do You or Don’t You Support Deasy?

If you were running for School Board it might seem obvious you would need to be prepared to answer this simple question:

“Do you support current LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy?”

But at last week’s District 6 candidate forum for the Los Angeles School Board race in the San Fernando Valley, this question made for some interesting theater:

Antonio Sanchez, an organizer and former staffer for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa confirmed straight away with a “yes.”

Monica Ratliff, a lawyer and elementary teacher, demurred, saying she is “hesitant to evaluate someone’s job performance based on articles I’ve read,” and would “need to know more” before evaluating him.

Maria Cano, a former LAUSD organizer, said, “I would think twice about evaluating him as a successful employee.”

All three of these candidates have been endorsed by the teachers union, which has been deeply critical of Deasy.  But some candidates are having a hard time giving “The Supe” a clear thumbs up or down. Why?

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In DC, Duncan and Villaraigosa Praise LA

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Earlier this week in Washington, I was able to catch up with a number of familiar faces including President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Asked about school progress in Los Angeles, Duncan expressed optimism for the gains LAUSD has made since Superintendent John Deasy took the helm.

“He has a powerful vision – and it’s promising,’ said Duncan. ‘He’s provided leadership and a real opportunity for students in LA to continue to improve.”

Duncan wasn’t the only one with Los Angeles schools on his mind.

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Commentary: Union Points Fingers on Sex Abuse

UTLA: Everything to Hinder, Nothing to Help?

Lots of blame was dished out last week after a state audit found weak dismissal and reporting practices at LAUSD regarding teachers accused of sexual misconduct.

Especially vocal was ULTA president Warren Fletcher, who has consistently lobbed criticism at LAUSD for how it has managed the scandal.

Now I am a Prop-30-supporting-dyed-in-the-wool union Democrat, but I have to ask – shouldn’t the teachers union also take some responsibility here?  Not if you ask the current UTLA leadership, which continues to insist on sacrificing student well-being to protect even pedophiles.

But things could be changing.
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“No” On Teacher Evaluation Bill

It’s not often that a single piece of legislation can be called catastrophic for the future of education in California, but Sacramento has managed to create it. It’s called AB 5 – a bill that will legislate how teachers are evaluated, and it has re-appeared Frankenstein-like, with the backing the powerful teachers’ unions. Stuffed with watered-down amendments and other late-breaking shenanigans, this bill is a disaster, even with the new ‘sunset’ provision that may have been slapped on today.

The bill has suddenly become so urgent that the Senate Education Committee met late Wednesday to cut a deal for last-minute changes so it could be rushed to a vote before the close of the legislative session Friday.  Its resurrection is a bold attempt to gut school districts’ power to assess teachers — and will hamper the districts’ ability to use test scores or student progress as part of the equation.

That long-standing but little-used power is conferred on school districts by a law called the Stull Act, dating from 1971. It cannot be a coincidence that AB 5′s rise from the dead coincides with a Judge’s ruling earlier this summer, which ordered LAUSD to adhere to the Stull Act and use test scores as part of teacher evaluation. The ruling was celebrated by LAUSD chief John Deasy and groups of teachers, parents and school administrators – but came as a shock to the teachers’ unions. So in a stunning show of political muscle, the teachers’ lobby is propelling AB 5 forward. One of the bill’s more outrageous stipulations: that the evaluation process be subject to local collective bargaining – akin to letting your drunk teenager negotiate for the car keys. In effect, the bill will make it easier for those teachers who don’t help students learn hang onto their jobs in the classroom.

So Frankenstein has arrived, ugly and powerful enough to stave off meaningful teacher assessment. For too long as a state we have refused to appropriately link teacher and principal evaluations to student test scores, the very thing this sort of bill could be accomplishing. Even a third-grader could tell you AB 5 deserves an “F” — and should be voted down in the Senate.

Welcome to LA School Report

Today I am pleased to announce the official launch of LA School Report. My goal is to provide meaningful coverage on issues related to the Los Angeles public schools and to shine a light on a system that receives little attention despite its enormous importance. As the second largest school system in the country and one that commands an annual budget of over $6 billion dollars, the Los Angeles Unified School District faces complicated and controversial challenges that too often receive little scrutiny. LA School Report will provide news coverage, analysis and commentary on these issues and enrich the discourse on issues related to public officials, school policies and ultimately about the future of this city. I encourage you to get informed, be engaged, and to have an impact on education in Los Angeles.

- Jamie Alter Lynton, publisher

Update: API Delayed Until October

For those of you wondering when the California Department of Education (CDE) will release its much-maligned Academic Performance Index (API) for 2012, don’t hold your breath.

The API Index is the single number used to reflect a school’s progress, based on statewide testing. Traditionally timed to coincide with the start of the school year, the API release has instead been pushed to October 3, 2012.  That’s an additional month after the release of individual test score results — which have also been postponed — and are now due on August 31st. (Los Angeles Times)

According to the CDE, more time is needed to investigate last spring’s testing scandal - when students allegedly took hundreds of photos of the standardized test and posted them on social networking sites. If you don’t have time to hunt down CDE’s buried press release, click here.