A toast to the survivors of LA Unified’s wild and crazy year

LA Unified

UTLA rally at Grand Park

The end of another school year this week brings to a close one of LA Unified’s most crazy, controversial and dysfunctional academic years. It’s a real testament to students, teachers and other school personnel that they persevered through so much disruption and tumult.

So, a tip of the hat to the nation’s second-largest school district as it navigated through a Hit Parade of memorable moments. Here are 10 of them, in no particular order of consequence:

The MISIS Meltdown

Even before the first day of school, the MISIS debut was a debacle. Summer school teachers who tested out the district-developed software, which was supposed to streamline and centralize all student data including scheduling, grades, attendance records, and disciplinary files, did their best to sound the alarm about the program’s myriad problems.

But under the direction of Matt Hill, Chief Strategy Officer, and Ron Chandler, Chief Information Officer — both of them now working elsewhere — the district plowed ahead with the district-wide roll out assuring anyone who asked, “We got it!”

While the original budget allocated for MISIS was $29 million, spending is likely to top $133 million next week when the board is expected to approve after another $79.6 million in bond funds. Meanwhile, the district’s IT team is working alongside Microsoft employees on continued repairs that will last through 2015-16.

Superintendent John Deasy Resigns

Superintendent John Deasy was at ideological odds with three, then four members of the school board throughout most of his tenure. But it was the one-two punch of the MISIS failure that left thousands of students across the district class-less for several weeks combined with the continued scrutiny over the terrible iPad deal the district struck with Apple and Pearson that ultimately lead to his departure in October 2014.

His aggressive policies — such as the iPads-for-all program, reconstitution of consistently low-performing schools and his anti-tenure stance — kept him at odds with board members, teachers and the public at large.

Continue reading

Deal with teachers puts LAUSD on track to new evaluation plan

teacher_evaluation_satisfactoryLost in the focus on double-digit salary increases in the tentative deal between LA Unified and UTLA is an agreement to overhaul the process by which the district’s 30,000 teachers will be evaluated.

Under the new plan, which begins next year, both sides agreed to an interim three-tier final evaluation system, with three ratings: “exceeds standards,” “meets standards” and “below standards.”

The new system replaces a two-tier final evaluation system that rated teachers as “meeting standards” or “below standards.”

The district and the union also agreed to form a joint task force to re-write the Teacher Growth and Development Cycle, a series of protocols that form the basis of the final evaluation rankings, by 2016-17.

Those procedures came under fire during Superintendent John Deasy‘s tenure when UTLA argued that Deasy was trying to lay the groundwork for merit-based pay when he added a new ranking of “highly effective” to other evaluation metrics. The union took the issue to the state labor board, PERB, and a judge ruled in its favor.

That decision ultimately forced the district to eliminate the added ranking and revert to the previous system. But it still left teachers and their supervisors — school principals — frustrated and confused. Principals especially complained that the system had become too burdensome with a backlog of paperwork, leaving little time to conduct multiple class observations and to provide meaningful feedback. Continue reading

Pearson stock takes a dive after rebuke by LA Unified

Pearson stock-2Things went from bad to worse for publishing giant Pearson yesterday, as its stock took a dive following the news Wednesday that LA Unified announced plans to seek a refund for thousands of Apple iPads pre-loaded with Pearson educational software that the district said was ineffective.

Pearson was the single worst performer on the Financial Times Stock Exchange Thursday and suffered its worst loss since February 2014, according to Market Watch. The stock dropped four percent after LA Unified issued a letter that it was “extremely dissatisfied” with the Pearson content and wanted a full refund potentially worth tens of millions.

The Pearson-loaded iPads were part of what was once a grand initiative of LAUSD’s former Superintendent John Deasy, who set out to use $1.3 billion of bond money to get an iPad into the hands of every student and teacher in the district. The program, part of the now defunct Common Core Technology Project, was to purchase $500 million worth of devices and spend $800 million on Internet capability upgrades at schools.

The plan now lies in ruins and surrounded by controversy, including a grand jury investigation and a SEC inquiry. LA Unified to date has purchased roughly 43,000 of the Pearson-loaded iPads, which came at a cost $768 per device.  Continue reading

LAUSD reboots technology program with launch of new task force

students use ipads* UPDATED

With the launch of the new Technology Initiative Task Force yesterday, LAUSD is restarting its approach to integrating technology and instruction in the classroom after the last effort ended with an FBI probe.

The Common Core Technology Project drew criticism from the start, in part for questions over the procurement process with software publisher Pearson and iPad provider Apple. The new initiative will be characterized by public access to information and community input from the get-go, the task force chairwoman told LA School Report.

“The goals of this group are complete transparency and to hear the voices of groups throughout the district,” said Judy Burton. “Part of the process will include town hall meetings and focus groups with students, teachers and parents throughout the district before anything goes forward.”

Meetings will be open to the public and everything discussed will be available on a new website, which is scheduled to go live early next week.

“I think the bright light about this is the task force and the district are not just looking at using technology to prepare for tests, but at how to use technology to deliver instruction,” Burton said. “We’re thinking more about what students really need to be successful in college and in careers — today students have to be able to use technology as a tool to learn.”

Instead of uniformly dropping the same device with the same pre-programmed curriculum into the hands of every student, the new task force has set a goal to avoid the previous one-size-fits-all approach.

Continue reading

Successful appeal put teacher in LAUSD’s top 10 salary list

judgeThe release of salary records for all LA Unified employees by the Los Angeles Daily News on Friday produced a list of the district’s highest paid officials in 2014, with one apparent anomaly: an elementary school teacher.

While nine of the top ten earners are headquarters administrators, starting with former Superintendent John Deasy, who made $439,998 the year he was ousted, the odd name on the list is Jose Martinez, a grade school teacher who earned $235,329.

Martinez was removed from his job by the district in November 2011, though it’s unclear under what circumstances. He fought the decision, appealing to the Office of Administrative Hearings and the Commission on Professional Competence, which sided with Martinez and ordered the district to reinstate him and the salary he would have otherwise been paid.

According to a statement from LA Unified’s legal department, “The District unsuccessfully appealed the decision to reinstate the teacher, entitling Mr. Martinez to reinstatement and approximately $164,564.92 in back pay.”

The lump sum covered unpaid earnings from “November 2011 to March 2014, which explains the unusually high salary reporting in 2014,” district officials said.

In case you missed it, here are the top 10 paid LA Unified employees in 2014, courtesy of the Daily News:

John Deasy, superintendent of schools: $439,998

Michelle King, deputy superintendent: $282,792

David Holmquist, general counsel: $264,407

Mark Hovatter, chief facilities executive: $248,841

Jose Martinez, elementary teacher: $235,329

Megan Reilly, chief financial officer: $231,648

Janalyn Glymph, personnel director: $204,331

Matthew Hill, chief strategy officer: $203,743

Gregory Garcia, director, facilities project E: $200,904

Vivian Ekchian, chief labor negotiator: $199,034

Week in Review: New offer to UTLA, new job for Deasy

lasr logo square
In case you missed it, here are the top five stories from LA School Report this past week:

LA Unified, citing new money, ups its offer to teachers
Bolstered by a more robust state budget, LA Unified said it was doubling its offer to UTLA.


Survey: Teachers support changes in state job protection laws
The majority of public school teachers who participated in a new survey support changes in state teacher job protection laws that were the focus of last year’s landmark ruling in Vergara v. California.


Deasy to work for Broad Center as ‘superintendent-in-residence’
Former LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy will be working as a consultant for The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems as a “superintendent-in-residence.”


Feds find lack of leadership, vision, planning on iPads, MiSiS
A report from the U.S. Education Department on the district’s troubled $1.3 billion iPad program and gitchy MiSiS computer system had few positive things to say.


LAUSD middle school among California’s ‘Schools to Watch’
LA Unified’s Luther Burbank Middle School in Highland Park was honored as a model middle school by the state program, “Schools to Watch-Taking Center Stage.”

Deasy, Austin join Vergara suit sponsor, Students Matter

LA Unified Supt. John Deasy testifying at the Vergara trial

Former LA Unified Supt. John Deasy testifying at the Vergara trial

The non-profit behind the Vergara lawsuit, Students Matter, is adding two former LA Unified lightning rods to their ranks. Ex-Superintendent John Deasy and founder of Parent Revolution, Ben Austin, are joining the advocacy group.

Students Matter successfully sued the state of California and its public school teachers unions, overturning five laws governing tenure, seniority and dismissal that the student plaintiffs argued kept ineffective teachers in their classrooms. The state and the unions have appealed, vowing to defend the statutes challenged in the case.

It’s the second job-related announcement this month for Deasy, who will be serving on the Students Matter advisory board. He was recently named a consultant for The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems as a “superintendent-in-residence.” Austin will serve as head of policy development and advocacy for Students Matter, leading the organization’s “Courtroom to Classroom” campaign.

“By hiring Ben Austin and adding Dr. John E. Deasy ’s expertise to our board, Students Matter is expanding its commitment to fighting for political change that focuses on the needs of our kids,” David Welch, the group’s founder and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur said in a press release today.

Austin stepped down last month as executive director of Parent Revolution, a group he founded six years ago to aid parents pushing for change in their children’s poorly-performing schools.  Under his leadership, the organization played a role in creating California’s parent trigger law and, later, helping three area schools use it. Three other schools used the threat of it to force changes.

Continue reading

Feds find lack of leadership, vision, planning on iPads, MiSiS

students use ipadsA report from the U.S. Education Department on the district’s troubled $1.3 billion iPad program and gitchy MiSiS computer system had few positive things to say, as it found problems in both efforts with their planning, execution and metrics for success.

The report, which was requested by LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines, found that the iPad program suffered from a lack of a grand vision as to how the devices were to used, that it was deficient in providing enough field support, that it did not have any overall metrics to evaluate its success and that it was overly-dependent on the iPad while ignoring the possibilities of other devices.

“There is no district educational technology plan, goals, or metrics for success for how technology will support learning at the district level,” the report, which was first publicly released on the blog 4LAKids, stated.

The iPad program was conceived and touted by John Deasy, the district’s former superintendent who resigned in October under heavy criticism that included the iPad program.

The report is not the first to criticize the iPad program. An internal report by LA Unified board member Monica Ratliff found similar problems, and an independent report by the American Institute for Research found problems with the planning and execution of its pilot program.

Continue reading

Deasy to work for Broad Center as ‘superintendent-in-residence’

John-Deasy

Former LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy

Former LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy will be working as a consultant for The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems as a “superintendent-in-residence.” The center is a leadership academy for school administrators, which is funded by Eli Broad, a longtime Deasy supporter and powerful financier of California education reform efforts.

Deasy resigned in October under pressure due to mounting criticism of his managerial style and several bungled technology initiatives. Since resigning, criticism of his three-and-a-half year tenure has continued, in particular since the FBI seized files in December related to his $1.3 billion iPad program as part of a federal grand jury investigation. Deasy continued to be paid by the district through December.

Deasy’s role with the Broad Center was announced in a press release on its website and was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The center’s mission is to “raise student achievement by recruiting, training and supporting leadership talent from across America to transform urban school systems,” according to its website.

However, the Broad Center and related Broad Academy are viewed with great skepticism by some in California education. As the Times pointed out, the academy “is regarded with suspicion by some, especially union activists, who have long speculated that Broad wanted leaders better trained to outmaneuver and weaken unions representing school employees, especially the teachers union.”

The Broad Center’s press release announcing his new role touted Deasy’s accomplishments.

“John Deasy’s long history of boosting opportunity and achievement for all kids is a testimony to his relentless drive for social justice and fundamental belief in what’s possible when school systems are organized around what is best for students,” said Christina Heitz, managing director of The Broad Academy, in the press release.

Deasy oversaw a rise in graduation rates and student test scores along with a fall in dropout rates during his tenure at LA Unified. It’s unclear whether he would be held accountable by the federal grand jury investigation into possible bid rigging with the iPad program, which sought to put an iPad in the hands of every LA Unified student and teacher.

Federal grand jury proceedings are secret, but the files seized in October were related to the program’s procurement process, for which Deasy was criticized for the perception that he may have tilted the bid in favor of Apple and Pearson, the company that provided educational software for the iPads.

Deasy halted the program in August when emails were publicly released showing a high level of communication Deasy and a former deputy had with Apple and Pearson.

 

Labor board rules against LAUSD for teacher evaluations

teacher_evaluation_satisfactory* UPDATED

LA Unified violated state employment laws by imposing an evaluation system on members of its teacher union, UTLA, a state agency said in a tentative ruling made public today.

If the ruling made on Christmas Eve by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) stands, the district would have to stop the evaluation process, which was implemented in 2013 under former Superintendent John Deasy. The district would also be ordered to compensate UTLA members for any financial losses incurred as a direct result of the evaluation system, which was based on a four-level observation rating system.

UTLA, which filed the complaint in June 2013, said in a statement it is “gratified” for the board ruling. The district has until Feb. 22 to appeal, but the union said it “is confident that if there is an appeal, the full PERB board will affirm the administrative law judge’s decision that the District acted unlawfully.”

David Holmquist, the district’s chief legal counsel, declined to comment on the preliminary ruling, saying he has not had an opportunity to discuss the ruling with the school board.

“I’m not ready to say what we think it means,” Holmquist told LA School Report in a phone call. “There’s a lot that we need to figure out,” he added.

The board will review the findings and plan a potential response at its board meeting next week.

“Once I bring it up to the board we will decide what responses we want to make to that,” Holmquist said. Some possibilities he mentioned are filing an extension of time to continue litigation or firing off a list of objections to the preliminary ruling.

In the meantime, Holmquist confirmed the district is “in conversation with UTLA.”

Since the district implemented a four-level evaluation, UTLA has objected, arguing that the union’s 30,000 members never had a chance to vote on it. They also allege it creates a path to establish merit pay to reward the highest performing teachers. Another element they oppose, is the use of student testing data in judging teacher efficacy.

Teacher evaluations have been part of the contract negotiations between the district and the union that have generated little progress so far. The sides are scheduled to resume talks a week from today.


 

*Adds comment from UTLA.

Cortines doubles number of direct reports in LAUSD overhaul

LAUSD organizational flow chartJohn Deasy was often described by critics as an autocrat in how he ran the district. Nine senior aides reported to him directly.

That was nothing. In the two months since taking over, his replacement, Ramon Cortines, has doubled the number of LA Unified officials under his direct supervision. He has 18 aides reporting to him directly.

The change came early this month when the district circulated a new organizational chart of top district management. In another realignment, Cortines continued the expansion of some departments while eliminating others.

Taken together, the changes throw into relief the differences in management styles between the two men: Where Deasy had a handful of people delivering information from the bottom up, Cortines prefers a more hands-on approach with direct contact.

In a letter to the board that accompanied the new organizational charter, Cortines offered no specifics as to why he was making so many changes, other than to say they would “continue the trajectory of stability and calmness that our schools and support staff depend on.”

The most notable changes within the top tier, which took effect on Dec. 1, affect Matt Hill and Donna Muncey.  Hill’s job as Chief Strategy Officer has already undergone some alterations under Coritnes, after the resignation of the district’s Chief Information Officer, Ron Chandler. A month ago, Hill was asked to share oversight of MISIS, but he has since been pulled off of that project to oversee the Information Technology Department.

Aside from his experience with the district in managing the development and troubled rollout of MISIS, it is unclear what experience Hill has in running an IT department. Prior to his career in education, Hill worked in Black & Decker’s business development group. He’s also been a strategy consultant in the financial services industry.

Continue reading

A turbulent year in LA Unified: Our top 11 stories of 2014

Top LA School Report storiesThe 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 downRatliff: lone vote on school board against Deasy settlementCaputo-Pearl insists Deasy’s resignation not a victory for UTLAIn resignation letter, Deasy ‘overwhelmed with pride’

tuck torlaksonSchool reform loss is union’s gain 

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 tenureMcKenna victory gives appearance of a pro-teacher union board.

Continue reading

Is LA Unified the target of FBI probe, or could it be a contractor?

Deasy cancels ipad contract

Former LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy* UPDATED

*UPDATED

Twenty boxes of documents now in hand, the FBI is examining records from LA Unified that bear on its digital technology program.

By terms of a subpoena, the documents will go before a federal grand jury Friday morning, and evidence of criminal wrong-doing could lead to indictments.

But what exactly are investigators looking for, and is it even possible that LA Unified might not be the central focus of the probe, that it could, instead, be its partners in the iPad program, Apple and Pearson?

The subpoena, dated Nov. 21, requested “all originals and copies of all and any records” related to the district’s request for proposals for the digital device program, the Common Core Technology Project and the two companies.

Among other records requested were those relating to other companies involved in the bidding process and to district personnel involved with the bidding and review processes.

Further, the authorities wanted records related to Apple and Pearson before the bidding process, a clear indication they have interest in the emails between Apple and Pearson and former superintendent John Deasy and his deputy at the time, Jaime Aquino.

Marc S. Harris, a former deputy chief of the Public Corruption and Government Fraud section for the Central District of California, told LA School Report that one of the companies, rather that the school district, could be a focus.

“It’s conceivable,” he said.

Continue reading

JUST IN: FBI seizes iPad documents from LA Unified offices

John Deasy

Former LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy

Agents with the FBI visited the offices of LA Unified headquarters yesterday and seized files related to the district’s controversial $1.3 billion iPad program, a district spokesman confirmed.

The FBI action was first reported by the Los Angeles Times, which said 20 boxes of documents were removed and that the seizure came as a complete surprise to district officials.

The controversial iPad program, which aimed to give every student and teacher in LA Unified an iPad as part of the Common Core Technology Project, was one of the major initiatives undertaken by former Superintendent John Deasy, who resigned in October.

Some critics who opposed the iPad program from the start questioned whether bond money was an appropriate or even legal way to fund the purchase of iPads, although the district’s lawyers determined it was legal and the program was approved the district’s bond oversight committee. While unanimously approved by the LA Unified school board in 2013, the board pulled back on its support for the iPad program as its implementation was fumbled and questions were raised about the fairness of the bidding process.

Deasy cancelled the iPad program in August after emails surfaced showing he and a deputy had a close relationship with Apple and Pearson, a company that provided educational software for the iPads. To some it looked like the bid was rigged favor of Apple and Pearson.

Deasy’s resignation is believed to have come under pressure from the board, in part as a result of the botched iPad program, although the board issued a statement that said it believed the results of a report would show Deasy did not break the law.

“While the District’s investigation into the Common Core Technology Project has not concluded, the Board wishes to state that at this time, it does not believe that the Superintendent engaged in any ethical violations or unlawful acts, and the Board anticipates that the Inspector General’s report will confirm this,” the statement said.

Deasy was replaced by interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who told the Los Angeles Times that the FBI raid came as a surprise.

 

For LAUSD, more Chromebooks, iPads means more confusion

la-1418303-0426-me-0428-lopez-ipads1-mam-jpg-20130426Announcing the next phase of the digital device program to buy more iPads and Chromebooks was the easy part. Carrying it out is another issue.

While LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines was pretty clear on how he expected it to proceed, others in the district are not so sure.

The district’s Chief Facilities Director says the choice of devices might not be so wide as Cortines suggested, and at least one board member is uncertain how it will all play out.

Last week Cortines gave the go-ahead to spend capital improvement funds to outfit 27 schools with tablet devices and 21 schools with laptops — the so-called Phase 2B. The so-called Phase 2A authorized devices for 11 schools.

In a written statement, Cortines said school principals “will be key in determining which educational tools are best for their school communities” and added that this round would include “more options than previous phases.”

But Mark Hovatter, the facilities director whose department oversees the procurement of devices, says school leaders will only have two choices: iPads pre-loaded with Pearson curriculum or Chromebooks with content developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

“Those are the only two that are within the budget that the board has authorized,” Hovatter told LA School Report. “They already approved Phase 2B under that contract.”

Continue reading

Cortines approves next phase of LAUSD iPad program

LAUSD Superintedent Ray Cortines

LAUSD Superintedent Ray Cortines

Let the iPads roll. Again.

LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines today approved moving ahead with the next phase of the district’s iPad program, officially known as Phase 2B of the Common Core Technology Project.

It’s actually, iPads et. al.

The goal with this action is to complete the second round of buying digital devices by equipping teachers and students at an additional 27 schools with learning devices. That brings the total to 85 district schools with iPads or, in the case of the Phase 2B buy, other digital devices, such as Chromebooks.

The total reflects 47 schools receiving iPads in Phase 1 and 11 in Phase 2A, which was halted by former Superintendent John Deasy after questions arose about the procurement process.

The cost to date: $114 million, which covers devices, keyboards, charging carts, testing devices, and the laptop pilot program for 21 high schools.

In this latest phase announced today, each school will have the option of buying devices that the principal and teachers deem best for their students. And the district intends to sustain that approach going forward.

District officials said they expect this latest round of devices to reach students by February.

“Our students deserve the best tools available to meet the requirements to be successful in the 21st century workforce,” Cortines said in a statement. “Without the appropriate tools, they will be disadvantaged compared to their peers across the entire nation. We also need to keep the dialogue open with our schools. We want Phase 2B to provide more options than previous phases so that our students are fully utilizing the most appropriate and current devices available.”

Unlike iPads being purchased under a new request of $13.3 million from the Bond Oversight Committee for computerized testing at the end of the academic year, the Phase 2B devices will be loaded with instructional software.

The list of schools scheduled to receive new devices is here.

Caputo-Pearl asks energetic UTLA rally: ‘Are you ready for a fight?’

The message was clear from United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) President Alex Caputo-Pearl as he spoke to hundreds of energetic, amped-up supporters yesterday: If teachers are going to get the raise and other concessions they are demanding from LA Unified in a new contract, it is going to be a fight.

“Now folks, we’ve got to fight for our next victory, and that is to win our contract demands in the Schools LA Students Deserve campaign. And let’s be really clear, folks, that is going to be a fight,” Caputo-Pearl told the crowd.

The teachers union staged five simultaneous rallies around Los Angeles yesterday, including at James Monroe High School in North Hills, in the latest and most significant of the UTLA leadership’s “escalating actions” as it looks to put pressure on the district at the negotiating table. That pressure has included hints at a strike, and the sight of hundreds of teachers dressed in red marching outside a school offered a preview of what that might look like.

The union’s contract demands are outlined in the Schools LA Students Deserve campaign, which includes teacher raises, lower class sizes and an end to “teacher jail.”

Hundreds of teachers turned out at Monroe as they marched up and down Haskell Avenue and Nordoff Street while many drivers in cars passing by honked in support amid the sounds of beating drums, whistles, claps and chants that filled the air. Some UTLA members held signs and flags, including one that provocatively read, “Eight years a slave,” referring to amount of time LA Unified teachers have gone without a raise.

Continue reading

MiSiS system ‘not feasible unless modified,’ says analyst for LAUSD

Misis Logo* UPDATED

In a scathing critique of LA Unified’s implementation of its new student data tracking system, a team of independent analysts found problems from the beginning, including an overall “lack of communication or understanding of application stability” critical to the project’s success.

In short, Arnold Viramontes, an outside expert hired by former superintendent John Deasy, found that in rolling out the new MiSiS system, “red conditions” arose early and should have signified “No Go.” But they were ignored by the system’s management team, leading to months of frustration, anger and disruption at schools across the district.

In its seven-page Oversight Report, shared with the district board members this morning, Viramontes found: “There are many reasons why the current project plan is not feasible unless it is modified to reflect the dynamics of the implementation.”

Already, that effort has begun. This week, Superintendent Ramon Cortines announced several high-level changes to reorganize the team responsible for fixing MiSiS, which stands for My Integrated Student Information System. The reshuffling included the departure of the head of the Information Technology Division, Ron Chandler, and an outside consultant, Bria Jones.

In a brief statement late this afternoon, Cortines said, “I am well aware of some of the impediments MiSiS has created and how they have affected our students, teachers and support staff. I want you to know that we have already made some changes to address the issues in this first  report, and will continue to work to resolve the problems until we have a fully functioning student information system to serve the students, parents and employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District.”

Board member Tamar Galatzan said the report highlighted the gap between what should have been done and what was actually accomplished as MiSiS was launched.

The report, she said, “gives us a high-level overview of the time and money it will take to get MiSiS fixed. His job isn’t to play the blame game. It’s to get in there right now and fix what we can while we’re rolling down the track.”

Apart from kind words for the “hard work and tireless hours” put in by employees trying to fix the problems as they came, the critique had little good to say about the MiSiS project, which had been expected to be fully operational by next month.

Continue reading

The MiSiS cash register is starting to put up some numbers

computer-error* UPDATED

The MiSiS cash register is starting to ring.

Ever since the bungled launch of the student data system, the district has been throwing heaps of money at software problems to get the system functioning properly to meet district, state and federal mandated deadlines.

“More than anybody, I want to know how much money we’ve spent,” Superintendent Ramon Cortines told LA School Report. “I mean, how much we spent in addition to the budget for MiSiS. And I’m keeping account of the money I’m further spending.”

From August through Oct. 1, the district gave schools $10 million for the transition of registration, enrollment and attendance data to MiSiS. Cortines, who took over from John Deasy two weeks ago, supported the the effort by bring in 30 retired administrators, counselors and counselors on the rehire list as well as 270 active staffers, with all of them deployed to schools throughout the district as back up to those working to solve MiSiS issues.

That money, nearly as much as what was spent to build MiSiS using bond funds, has been siphoned from the district’s General Fund, adding to an already negative operating budget.

Continue reading

PBS SoCal asks: Can LA Unified be saved? Or is it too big?

Can LA Unified be saved? This difficult question is examined in the in latest episode of the PBS SoCal show, “Studio SoCal.”

The episode features an in-depth discussion among the hosts Elizabeth Espinosa and Rick Reiff, reporter David Nazar and California Teachers Empowerment Network President Larry Sand, a frequent critic of UTLA, the LA teachers union. It also includes an interview with LA Unified board member Monica Garcia.

The show did not include anyone from UTLA.

The panel discussion points out that while district graduation rates and test scores have improved, the results are still below the national averages, leaving the district still searching for solutions to fix what many see as an unfixable system.

“There are so many problems I don’t know where to begin,” Sand said in the episode. “Test scores may go up a little bit, maybe the dropout rate goes down a bit. But nothing really changes, the district is just too big to manage.”

The episode discusses the recent resignation of former Superintendent John Deasy but only as a launching pad to dig into the broad issues facing the district, including the debate over the power of teacher unions, the Vergara case, the huge size of the district, language barriers in classrooms and political power struggles on the school board.

Click on the embedded link above or go here to see the episode.