Lots of strike talk expected as teachers union opens conference

Alex Caputo-Pearl strike talks UTLA

Alex Caputo-Pearl, President of UTLA

United Teachers Los Angeles opens its annual Leadership Conference today, and strike talk will be a prominent theme.

As part of the three-day gathering at the Concourse Hotel at LAX, local union leaders will hear from union chiefs from other cities who used the threat of a strike to get a new labor agreement. They’ll also hear from the last UTLA president to lead a strike.

Focus on such a disrupting possibility comes as negotiators for UTLA and LA Unified are meeting periodically over a new contract. But the sides remain far apart, making the possibility of a strike more real than ever.

The conference also comes as the union has intensified its animus toward district Superintendent John Deasy, whose support for the Vergara plaintiffs  — he was their first witness — and district missteps in the iPad and MiSiS programs have painted an ever growing target on his back. Deasy’s annual performance review by the school board is set for the Oct. 21 meeting, and an unsatisfactory review could end his tenure — if he doesn’t resign sooner.

While UTLA plays no role in the decision, apart from its fervid support for a handful of board members, it has called the for the board to hold Deasy “accountable” for his actions. Union officials have declined to explain what exactly that means.

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LAUSD says concerns cited in iPad report were expected

iPad program reportLA Unified officials said today they anticipated the concerns raised by an independent report on the district’s one-to-one iPad program, which found that schools are not using the devices to teach the new Common Core curriculum.

What’s more, said Bernadette Lucas, director of the District’s technology project, they were thrilled to get the bad news.

“I couldn’t tell you the exuberance that our team had over this,” she said in a briefing with reporters.

The problems identified in the report by American Institutes for Research (AIR), mirror those the district is now tackling, and that validates the district’s plan moving into the next phase of the rollout, Lucas said.

“The vast majority of the challenges outlined in the report have have been worked on for quite a long time,” she added.

Conducted in spring, the report surveyed the 47 schools involved Phase 1 of the program. And although the district is now in Phase 2, planned for 58 schools, only a dozen have received the tablets this year. The remaining 46 schools will get devices by November — an exact date has not been determined.

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Editorial: Pre-Deasy days weren’t as great as you thought

Logo_LATimesVia LA Times | by the TImes Editorial Board

At L.A. Unified, tensions are high and crisis is in the air. The relationship between Supt. John Deasy and the school board that oversees him is at what is perhaps an all-time low. Deasy is again muttering about quitting; others are grumbling that he should be fired.

Not surprisingly, United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers union, is practically giddy. The union has regularly lambasted the superintendent, calling his performance “anything but satisfactory,” suggesting he be placed in “teacher jail” like a teacher accused of misconduct would be, and making it clear that it would like him to resign. If Deasy resigns, the leadership no doubt figures, it can go back to the good-old days.

Read the full story here.

What’s next *if* Deasy is out? Speculation abounds

John DeasyThe possibility that LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy will no longer be at the helm of the nation’s second largest school district – whether by choice or by force – is looming ever larger as the deadline for his annual evaluation approaches, leaving some district officials to speculate over how to replace him.

The seven-member elected school board, often split between Deasy supporters and Deasy critics, could deem his performance over the last year “unsatisfactory” at a his annual review slated for next month, automatically preventing his contract from rolling over into a new year.

Or Deasy could choose to quit.

A number of sources say he has grown tired of defending himself amid a growing controversy over whether emails exchanged with vendors, including Apple and Pearson, were appropriate before the bidding process began in the $500 million dollar purchase of iPads for the district. He says the issue is fabricated by those trying to oust him, but has admitted he’s lost confidence in his ability to continue working alongside the fractured school board.

Under either departure scenario, several district officials say even with the warning shots, the process for finding a replacement will be long and arduous.

It’s up to the school board to set new hiring guidelines and processes, says Executive Officer of the school board, Jefferson Crain. “Only they can decide how they want to do it and how long it will take,” he said.

But no one is saying it will be easy.

“The truth is there aren’t a lot of superintendents out there who have run any government agency of this size,” a district staffer told LA School Report. “That leaves LAUSD with a very short list of candidates with actual experience.”

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Teachers union changes tactics, urges board to ‘evaluate’ Deasy*

UTLA wants to fire deasy

Superintendent John Deasy

In an earlier version of this post we mistakenly reported that UTLA is “urging the school board to fire” superintendent John Deasy. This is incorrect. We try our hardest to write with accuracy, but on this one, we missed the mark – and we regret the error. What follows is UTLA’s letter to us (in part) and our corrected post:


Our September 15th news release does not state that UTLA is urging the school board to fire John Deasy. …You may speculate on what you think the statement means, but to report that as fact coming from UTLA is simply wrong. … We also did not state we want the school board to downgrade Deasy’s performance to “unsatisfactory.” We stated that the board has the opportunity to evaluate Deasy “ to determine if his work is satisfactory.” As a long-time journalist I believe you realize that both the headline and the story posted by LA School Report on September 16th are misleading.
UTLA requests an immediate retraction so that your readers and the LAUSD school community will be informed of UTLA’s actual position on this issue.
Sincerely ,
Suzanne Spurgeon,  Director of Communications, UTLA


The Los Angeles teachers union has given up one of its oldest and loudest refrains, calling on LA Unified chief John Deasy to resign. Instead, UTLA appears to be changing tactics; it is urging the school board to ‘evaluate’ the superintendent.

In a press statement, UTLA says it wants the board “to evaluate the Superintendent to determine if his work is ‘satisfactory’… and hold Deasy accountable” at his annual review to take place behind closed doors on October 21. A less than satisfactory review would effectively spell the end to the superintendent’s contract which – at his own insistence – stipulates he meet performance targets set by the board.

“Deasy must be held accountable for the iPad fiasco and MiSiS crisis……[he] holds teachers accountable for their classroom programs, yet he cries foul when serious questions are raised by his supervisors,” UTLA said in a statement yesterday.

But amidst a fast-moving saga that features a fractured seven-member school board and a superintendent increasingly under fire, the landscape without Deasy may not be a silver bullet for the union.

Not only could firing the superintendent become a campaign issue for the four school board members up for election next March, but it could have an impact on negotiations between the union and the district, currently at the bargaining table over a contract on behalf of 31,000 employees.

“It’s likely to have a disruptive effect on the negotiations,” cautions Chris Tilly, Director of UCLA’s Institute for Research and Labor Employment.

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Editorial: LA Unified schools won’t get better if leaders fight

Logo_LATimesVia LA Times | Editorial Board

This would be a difficult period for Supt. John Deasy and the Los Angeles Unified School District even if he and the school board were intent on working together for the benefit of students. But these aren’t the most cooperative of times, to put it mildly. The questions surrounding the superintendent’s 2012 emails with Apple and Pearson, well before the companies were picked as the winners of the contract to provide thousands of iPads for the district’s students, have further damaged the already tenuous relations between Deasy and the board. Nothing is likely to get better until the matter is resolved by further investigation.

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Kamala Harris: absenteeism interferes with ‘students’ rights’

Attorney General Kamala Harris

Attorney General Kamala Harris (photo by KNX)

California Attorney General Kamala Harris appeared at LA Unfiied’s Malabar Elementary School today to highlight a report on truancy released by her office this week that shows a high correlation between attendance problems and both income and race.

But the argument she’s using to bring attention to the issue is curious: the report notes the high rates of absenteeism “interfere with students’ right to an education under the California Constitution.”

Sound familiar? You may remember that students’ rights argument from the Vergara case, in which a judge struck down California’s teacher tenure and dismissal laws based on findings that the laws interfered with students’ right to a quality education protected under the California constitution.

But Harris apparently didn’t buy it – late last month she joined the teachers union to fight that ruling by filing an appeal on behalf of the state, putting her at odds with recent public polling on the issue.

Meanwhile, back to the report. It found a high correlating between truancy and race: 37 percent of African American elementary students sampled were truant, the highest of any subgroup (including homeless students) and 15 percentage points higher than the rate for all students. African American elementary school students are also chronically truant at nearly four times the rate of all students.
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Two years later, teachers fighting changes at Crenshaw High

crenshaw high school teachers allege removals LAUSD anti unionA labor board hearing opened yesterday with a dozen LA Unified teachers, including UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl, claiming the district used the reorganization of Crenshaw High School in 2012 to rid the campus of active union leaders who posed a threat to Superintendent John Deasy.

The teachers union filed the unfair labor practice charge against the district and Deasy a year ago, after Crenshaw was split into three magnet schools, a restructuring the 12 teachers vehemently and publicly fought against. As a result, they argue, Deasy specifically targeted them for removal from the school, forcing them to find jobs elsewhere in the district.

“This is a case about discrimination and retaliation,” UTLA attorney Dana Martinez said in her opening statement. “As the evidence will reveal, his comments will clearly demonstrate his motivation to get rid of union supporters who challenged him.”

As it happens, the hearing before the state Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, comes as UTLA is trying to win a new labor contract from the district. Caputo-Pearl and Deasy are among the chief strategists in negotiations that have barely progressed despite a handful of meetings.

Caputo-Pearl has linked the PERB hearing to other disputes between the union and Deasy, calling the superintendent’s actions at Crenshaw “Another Autocratic Deasy Decision,” as a headline on the UTLA website says. Caputo-Pearl has also called Deasy’s handing of the district’s iPad program and the student-tracking system (MiSiS) “autocratic.” And then there are the contract negotiations, which have gone nowhere.

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Reps for LAUSD, teachers union talk about computers, not salaries

UTLA contract talks computersAnother bargaining session came and went today and still no contract agreement between LA Unified and the teachers union, UTLA.

The district said in a press release, “union leaders weren’t ready to talk about raises at the table,”  leaving the sides to focus, instead, on issues with the student-tracking system known as MiSiS, for My Integrated Student Integrated System.

The union did not engage in salary talks, according to the district.

“Teachers certainly deserve a bigger paycheck,” Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement. “Finally, after years of severe budget cuts, we can afford to provide some relief that our teachers well deserve. We want to give raises.”

Chief Labor Negotiator Vivian Ekchian added, “While discussions around MiSiS implementation are very important, it shouldn’t preclude us from spending at least equal time on discussing salary increases.”

The union did not have an immediate response to the district’s characterization of the session.

The District has offered UTLA members an 8.64 percent salary increase over three years, which includes a one-time lump sum for 2013-14. It’s effectively the same deal the district has offered to all its other labor groups — the one-time payment and annual raises of 2 percent, 2 percent and 2.5 percent.

The union is seeking a 17.6 percent salary increase over two years, an amount the district said in the release it cannot afford “without a return to layoffs, dreaded unpaid furlough days, a shortened school year, reduced summer school and repeated deep cuts in staff and services needed to balance recent budgets.”

The next bargaining session is scheduled for Oct. 2

LAUSD outlines backup plans as MiSiS work continues

LAUSD School Board meeting 9-9-2014LA Unified is still scrambling to troubleshoot technical issues as the deadline for staffing schools approaches, the school board learned at its latest meeting yesterday.

Norm” day,” as it’s called, is set for Friday but problems with the new student data management system, MiSiS, have forced the district to devise a new plan: “The process will be a rolling process over a course of three weeks,” Deputy Superintendent Michelle King told the board.

Final student counts will be taken manually in a “double verification process,” and principals will get follow up visits from district staff to confirm numbers before any displacements occur, King told the board.

Schools experiencing the most severe problems are those enrolling kindergarten through eighth grade students, magnet schools and special education programs.

Chief Strategic Officer Matt Hill was contrite and optimistic addressing the board in the latest MiSiS update. “We rolled out the system with confidence that we can continue to improve it but there should have been a lot more testing,” he admitted to the board, echoing what many educators said in the months leading up to the disastrous launch of the program.

Another hurdle for the glitch-plagued system is printing student transcripts, a problem distressing to high school seniors who are now applying to colleges.

“Kids get one shot to apply to college … we can’t let our transition on this hurt a kid in their application process,” board member Steve Zimmer said.

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Caputo-Pearl Q&A: Running LAUSD like a business?

Logo_LATimesVia the Los Angeles Times | By Patt Morrison

It’s a funny world, and a small one. Alex Caputo-Pearl, the new head of United Teachers Los Angeles, went to school in the same Maryland school district where John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, was once superintendent.

They missed each other there, but now they’re in the same place, at the same time, on opposite sides of the table and sometimes on the issues. Caputo-Pearl, who was elected with 80% of the vote, was an ardent labor activist at Crenshaw High School, which he says got him ousted from the school after 13 years there. It was Deasy who decided the poorly performing school needed a clean sweep of faculty. Watch for big headlines as contract negotiations unfold.

Read the full story here.

Teachers union ups pressure on Deasy over technology, contract

Alex Caputo Pearl LAUSD Board meeting-9.9.14

President of UTLA, Alex Caputo-Pearl


With a new contract on the line, the LA Unified teachers union, UTLA, is stepping up its attack on Superintendent John Deasy, blaming him for problems large and small and the opening line the district has taken for a new contract with teachers.

Union president Alex Caputo-Pearl ratcheted up the tension at the district board meeting this morning, with a broadside against Deasy, who appeared unmoved throughout the barrage.

“This board has to look very carefully at what money is going into cleaning up after autocratic measures,” Caputo-Pearl told the members, referring to the recent problems surrounding the district’s iPad contract and the bungled roll out of MiSiS, a student data management system.

It was the latest of Caputo-Pearl’s references to Deasy as an autocrat, a broad criticism for unilaterally making policy decisions without consulting or completely ignoring the union’s position on issues.

Caputo-Pearl also used his brief appearance at the meeting to tell the board members they have $507 million in “unrestricted reserves,” suggesting that the money could be included in a new deal for teachers, who have been offered the same contract terms — raises of 2 percent, 2 percent and 2.5 percent over the next three years — as the district has offered its other unions.

“That’s a huge amount,” he said, and he returned to face the board hours later, after its closed session, to repeat his demand to use the $507 million for teachers.

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Progress (or lack of it) with teachers comes to LAUSD board

Galatzan and Ratliff

Unlikely Co-sponsors: Galatzan (left), Ratliff (right)

The LA Unified School Board returns tomorrow with a full agenda although a lot of the juicy stuff will be discussed in closed session.

In addition to the usual topics — personnel issues and ongoing litigation — the board will review labor negotiations, which at this point is down to the on-going talks with the teachers union, UTLA.

The union submitted its initial proposal to the board late last week and in it, UTLA called for discussions of various subjects, including salaries, teacher evaluations and discipline at future bargaining sessions. The proposal is the first item of business on the agenda for the board’s open session. However, the board will not publicly discuss the demands contained within the document nor any details of negotiations, such as they are.

Although an update on the student data system, MiSiS, is not officially on agenda it is inconceivable there wouldn’t be a lengthy discussion about it either in closed session or by a public speaker later in the day. Problems with the program have made it next to impossible to get an accurate count on the number of students enrolled in each school and in the right classes, according to school principals and school administrators. That has set schools back in making necessary teacher hiring adjustments.

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Not everyone is rejoicing over halt to LAUSD’s iPad program

LAUSD schools that won't be getting iPads 2014-2015

Click to enlarge image

Principal Steven Martinez of John Burroughs Middle School in Hancock Park figured the worst that could happen is that his school’s new iPads wouldn’t connect to the Apple TVs that staff bought to enhance lesson plans.

He figured wrong.

On Friday, he learned that his school is not getting iPads at all.

“I don’t understand what’s going on,” Martinez told LA School Report. “We want the iPads, and we were waiting for them to come any day now.”

John Burroughs is one of 27 LA Unified schools next in line to get iPads that were part of the district’s grand plan to put a digital device in the hands of every student. Superintendent John Deasy halted the plan in late August after questions over whether he and a former deputy, Jaime Aquino, manipulated the bidding process that gave the $1 billion deal to Apple and its software supplier, Pearson.

He announced that a new bid process would begin soon, but the largest number of schools that won’t get iPads soon, 11, are in George McKenna‘s District 1 — the poorest of LA Unified’s seven districts.

“Whatever is going on just get them to us because we’re ready to run over here,” Martinez said, a reaction that suggests, despite the controversy, not everybody in LA Unified opposes the iPad program.

In fact, Martinez’s school went to great lengths in generating excitement for them.

About 1,800 mostly low-income students attend Burroughs, and the campus is offering several specialized programs tied to the iPads, including a magnet program for Korean and Spanish dual language and a large special education program. For more than a year, Martinez has organized multiple training workshops for teachers, instructional coaches and parents “to show them the capabilities of an iPad.”

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Teachers union submits initial contract demands to LA Unified

UTLA contract proposal to DeasyAfter months of bargaining talks with LA Unified, the teachers union, UTLA, today submitted its first contract demand within the course of current negotiations.

In a document submitted to the board this morning, the union called for discussions of various subjects, including salaries, teacher evaluations and discipline at its next bargaining sessions, according to a district staffer who read the two-page letter to LA School Report.

Chief Labor Negotiator Vivian Ekchian, said in an interview she was “very pleased to have received their initial proposal.” She declined to discuss any of its content.

The letter, sent by UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl to the board, did not elaborate on salary demands, which the district contends it has not formally received. Caputo-Pearl says the union made it clear to the district long ago what it wants.

“UTLA’s salary proposal of 17.6 percent was formally presented to LAUSD under former President Warren Fletcher,” Caputo-Pearl told LA School Report. More recently, the union has clarified that the 17.6 percent salary increase demand is for two years.

The proposal comes on the heels of the district’s new deal with the Lieutenants and Sergeants School Police unit, whose contract was approved last night in a unanimous vote by unit members.

LA Unified has also completed negotiations with six other labor groups, most of which agreed to a similar salary increase package: a raise of 2 percent for 2014-15, 2 percent in 2015-16, and another 2.5 percent in 2016-17. Each annual pay bump is contingent on funds available.

While some groups also received a 2 percent lump sum payment for the 2013-14 school year, others tailored the additional payment to suit different preferences.

The raise UTLA is seeking over the next two years is nearly double what other groups have received over the span of three years. Superintendent John Deasy and other district officials say that could ultimately bankrupt the district.

Further, a “me too” clause included in most of the signed agreements allows a union the opportunity to re-open salary negotiations should the school board approve a higher general percentage increase for another group.

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Deasy on his critics: Constant attacks are ‘politically motivated’

Deasy comments on education politics

Superintendent John Deasy

Under withering criticism over the iPad program, a new student-tracking computer system and discordant relations with the teachers union, LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy said today that the attacks feel politically motivated at the expense of his agenda to improve the lives of district students.

“I serve at the pleasure of the board,” he said today in a wide-ranging interview with LA School Report. “If the board is not pleased, they can get rid of me at their pleasure.”

Asked if he would relieve them of that action by stepping down, he said, “I’m not prepared to answer that question.”

His tenure aside, Deasy said when he considers the acid tone of criticism over a confluence of issues, “I think it’s a troubling sign to me that the agenda is possibly no longer students. I had always assumed that the agenda was lifting students out of poverty. The agenda appears to be lifting Deasy out of LAUSD.”

The drumbeat of criticism is threatening to end a period of apparent comity and collegiality between Deasy and the school board that began last fall, shortly after it appeared that Deasy was resigning from a post he held since 2011.

Over the last 10 months or so, board meetings have played out with little of the tension that characterized previous meetings. Board President Richard Vladovic, especially, has shown a willingness to work closely and productively with Deasy.

But apparent unity could be cracking under the weight of problems with the iPad program and the bumpy implementation of a computer system that principals, teachers and parents rely on to track the progress and whereabouts of students.

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Deasy puts Apple deal on hold, starts new bidding process

Deasy cancels ipad contract*UPDATED

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy told members of the school board yesterday that he is halting the district’s contract with Apple, Inc., effectively ending his grand plan to put an iPad in the hands of every district student.

Following the disclosure of emails that suggest he and aides had tailored the bid process to favor Apple and the software maker, Pearson, when the district was seeking proposals for digital devices, Deasy said the district would reopen the bidding to take advantage of a changing marketplace and student needs.

In his letter to board members, who are meeting today, Deasy said “Moving forward, we will no longer utilize our current contract with Apple Inc.” He explained the decision in adding, “Not only will this decision enable us to take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances, it will also give us time to take into account concerns raised surrounding the CCTP and receive new information from the California Department of Education regarding assessments.”

CCTP stands for Common Core Technology Project, the district’s over-arching plan to supply and distribute digital devices to students. A committee headed by board member Monica Ratliff was appointed last year to oversee its implementation. It was after her draft report leaked was to media outlets last week that emails were disclosed, showing that Deasy and his deputy at the time, Jaime Aquino, exchanged ideas that appeared to some that the district was rigging the process to favor Apple and Pearson.

The original plan was for the devices to be rolled out in phases as part of a $1 billion spend. By his action yesterday, it will go no further than iPads delivered to 52 schools and laptops to 18,000 students under the existing contract, he told the members.

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iPad report shared only with LAUSD officials in secrecy

iPad Report LAUSDA draft report on LA Unified’s handling of the controversial iPad contract that was leaked to media outlets last week was made available to board members and district administrators only if they agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement, barring them from sharing the report with anyone.

While some signed, others, including Superintendent John Deasy, did not, leading one board member to raise questions about the legality of such a demand. Deasy said today he has still not been given a copy of the draft report.

The request for non-disclosure agreements came from board member Monica Ratliff, chair of the Common Core Technology Project Committee and author of the report, who has led the 10-month long effort to evaluate the program and recommend changes.

The draft report was supposed to remain confidential while participants provided feedback. The report was believed to have been given only to members of Ratliff’s committee, a group that included board member Tamar Galatzan; Quynh Nguyen, a member of the LA Unified Bond Oversight Committee; Ron Chandler, the district’s chief information officer; and Gerardo Loera, executive director of curriculum instruction.

Galatzan, a deputy city attorney, had assigned a staffer to represent her on the committee. She told LA School Report today she declined to sign the non-disclosure and, thus, did not receive a copy of the draft from Ratliff, who is also a lawyer.

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After Ferguson, LAUSD giving schools tools to discuss conflict

LAUSDlogoWith tensions from Ferguson, Mo. stirring yet another national debate on race relations, LA Unified is distributing an informational packet, “Engaging Students in Peaceful Dialogues about Conflict and Bias,” with a goal of helping solicit questions or concerns from students in “a neutral, safe and respectful space for constructive dialogue.”

The packet includes suggested activities for students in elementary, middle and high school.

“We encourage youth to consider issues much larger than themselves in order to learn and grow. In this instance, we want to allow our students to reflect, discuss and debate with the guidance of adults at school,” Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement from the district.

The material, developed by the District’s Human Relations, Diversity and Equity team, was designed to help teachers facilitate student dialogue and lead lessons on conflict resolution.


Deasy planning to hire his own liaison for MiSiS project


Superintendent John Deasy

As LA Unified teachers continue their complaints about the district’s new student data management program, MiSiS, Superintendent John Deasy said today he plans to hire an independent liaison to  keep him informed of corrective actions.

“This is not my area of expertise so I have to be sure, when I think something is not optimal, that I have my own person working on this to tell me if we are doing this smartly,” Deasy told LA School Report. “I want a third party who is knowledgeable about changing student informations systems, to give insight into are we making enough changes, are we making our changes correctly.”

Deasy said the person he will hire — within a week or so — will report directly to him and will not require board approval. He also said he intends to meet next week with a new court-appointed monitor charged with overseeing the development of a district-wide student tracking system. The previous person serving in that role died.

Since 2012, the person directly in charge of MiSiS is Bria Jones, according to Bria Jones. On her LinkedIn profile, she identifies herself as head of a small Arizona company hired by the district as “IT Project Director.” She claims she “Provide[s] day-to-day project direction and management of the MiSiS team.”

How she came to the district as the only candidate for the job was among questions that board member Tamar Galatzan included last week in a written request to Ken Bramlett, the district’s Inspector General, seeking an examination of the MiSiS program.

Efforts to reach Jones through the district and her LinkedIn account drew no response.

In an eight-minute telephone interview today about Jones’s role in the MiSiS launch and subsequent problems, Chief Information Officer Ron Chandler told LA School Report that “there are several project managers on the project…her role is to oversee different parts of the development of specifications and code development.”

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