Former Superintendent John Deasy previews new initiative to rethink juvenile prisons

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy speaks before listening to public com

(Credit: Getty Images)

See previous interviews by The 74: Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Senator and Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, University of Michigan economist Susan Dynarski, Harvard Education School Dean Jim Ryan. Full 74 Interview archive here.

As superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, John Deasy laid out an ambitious vision for improving schools. Today, his supporters say he succeeded in significantly improving student outcomes across the city, while his critics point to poor relationships with many of the district’s stakeholders and his botched plan to integrate iPads into Los Angeles classrooms. Deasy resigned under pressure in late 2014.

Now Deasy is back in the news, planning to launch a new program that he says will fix juvenile prisons in a way that both reduces recidivism and improves the life prospects of incarcerated youth.

I spoke with Deasy in depth last month about his vision for the program, how it might be implemented and whether it amounts to a form of privatized prisons.

The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

The 74: Can you start by telling me about your new initiative — what you’re working on, what you’re hoping to accomplish?

John Deasy: In October, I am launching a new organization called New Day, New Year. This organization is going to design, build and launch a set of alternative juvenile prisons in the country: in Los Angeles County and Alameda County in California, and then hopefully in Oklahoma and in New York City. In short, what I want to do for the next 10 years is to be part of the rethinking of juvenile justice in this country — and specifically youth corrections.

Our youth will leave our experience drug- and substance-free; on track for graduation or enrolled in community college, depending on their age; resilient; and also employed.

The theory is, we want to reduce recidivism by 50 percent as compared to the local county recidivism rate. That’s the short answer.

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What immediately jumps to mind is that this is a sort of charter school for juvenile prisons. Do you see it along those lines?

We don’t at the moment have successful alternatives where you have dramatically lower recidivism for youth, and we want to create that opportunity. I don’t know if it’s charter-like, because I don’t think there’s such a rule or a vehicle.

What would the governance structure be, then? Is this under the traditional governance of publicly governed prisons? I’m asking because there are a lot of concerns about privately run prisons.

I have enormous concerns around privately run prisons, and abhorrent concerns around for-profit prisons. The governance structure is as it currently is, and we’re aiming to provide the current governance structure an alternative setting. Judges could sentence or re-sentence youth — obviously it’s a willing proposition — to New Day, New Year, and in turn we will abide by the guidelines of the state that we work in and produce dramatically different results. But it’s certainly not for-profit, and it’s not private.

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LAUSD keeps hiring as enrollment declines and financial crisis looms

LA Unified officials persistently wring their hands about losing students year after year, but meanwhile the number of employees continues to rise.

In their latest tally, school district employees rose from 59,563 in the 2014-2015 school year to 59,823 last year and 60,191 in the 2016-2017 school year. (A final accounting of the actual hires will be available after the district’s Norm Day on Sept. 16.)

Last fall an Independent Financial Review Panel recommended a reduction of about 10,000 staff members, including administrators, classified and certificated personnel, for a savings of half a billion dollars a year for the district that faces a dire budget crisis.

And yet both Superintendent Michelle King and school board President Steve Zimmer have expressed the need to hire more employees, both to meet future expected shortages and to replenish the widespread cuts made under the John Deasy administration during the last recession. Meanwhile, some schools still complain of classes that are overcrowded and cuts in janitors and support staff.

About a week before the school year began, King posed with newly hired teachers and sent it out on her district Twitter account and wrote that she is “welcoming over 600 new teachers. Welcome to the family!”

TwitterMichelleKing

And last week when touting higher test scores, King noted that the district is providing more teachers at high-needs middle schools and high schools to help support the achievement levels.

“I believe that our overall investments in teachers, instructional coaches and restorative justice counselors for our deserving schools will pay off with even better results next year and in years to come,” King said.

King noted in her informative meetings last school year that the generous health benefits package by the district along with employee numbers are a major cause for the financial drain on the district and there’s a drastic need to act quickly to remain solvent.

Michelle King and Steve Zimmer after the speech

Michelle King and Steve Zimmer

Yet the school board last week approved hiring 1,632 more classified, certificated and unclassified employees. And they approved 537 new hires, mostly teachers and counselors, 51 of them with provisional intern permits.

The district over the last year has decreased the number of teachers, from 26,827 to this year’s estimated 26,556. The biggest increase in personnel includes K-12 administrators, nurses, counselors and psychologists.

Zimmer expressed strong concern about not having the needed academic counselors for students in upcoming years and encouraged the superintendent to let nearby colleges and universities know they are hiring for those positions.

Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson said the additional teachers are an investment in class size reductions and adding to elective opportunities in middle and high schools. She said the teachers will help replenish past losses in classes involving arts, robotics, physical education and leadership courses.

“It means we’re hiring,” Gipson said. She noted that the employee numbers “ebb and flow” due to retirements and transfers.

On the district’s employment site, the public non-classified opportunities include everything from carpenter to sign language interpreter. A listed accounting position can yield $111,000 a year.

It was a surprise to school board members late last year when they saw that administrative staff increased 22 percent in the last five years. In the superintendent’s report, the number of teachers had dropped 9 percent in the same period. And teachers and certified staff are aging toward retirement, heading toward a possible teacher shortage.

King said she will outline her cost-saving measures to the school board later in the year.

John Deasy: Bridging the chasm between the world and me — my promise to Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates

By John Deasy 

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is absent of tension to a positive peace which is in the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’ … Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

An open letter to Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Mr. Coates, I have read with great interest your many provocative and painful articles and books over these past few years. I feel I must speak louder and broader about my reaction, my realizations, and my responsibilities; in writing to you, I am acutely aware of the imprecision of my language, so I ask forgiveness for my prose, and seek acceptance of my purpose.

I cannot come to any other conclusion about our country’s current state of affairs than that I believe we are now engaged in an uncivil war. The evidence is everywhere: our streets, our schools, our courts, our financial system, our borders, our neighborhoods — and, of course, our politics. I watch people being killed, being re-enslaved in poverty, being removed from the middle class; I watch as walls are erected to prevent upward mobility; I watch seemingly incomprehensible reactions to murder, market manipulation, and monstrously hateful rhetoric; I watch a criminal justice system that seems detached from justice, the willful and deliberate incarceration of our youth, and the deliberate means of school punishment perverted in ways to sort out young black men, and other youth of color.

I watch adults model rhetoric and incivility at a level of such hate and invective that it shames the soul.

This uncivil war is being fought in boardrooms, classrooms, jails and housing patterns; on street corners and throughout our political process. It has many causalities, and I by no means make light of death or destruction (for I am sick and tired of burying children), but I fear the greatest casualty is yet to come: that of a destruction of belief. Belief in our system of governance, education, finance — and most of all our structures built around belief in one another.

Layered in the paralyzing prose you have penned is the chilling statement that you have come to expect nothing from us.

Mr. Coates, you so eloquently place the conditions and plight of the black family in front of us, starkly, without apology. But then I put down your book, and see nothing being done to remedy these wrongs. Again, I read, like so many others, the chilling implications of our collective inaction. (One need only review the New York Times article by David Leonhardt on The 1.5 Million Missing Black Men to fully understand your points of pain.)

As a career educator and public leader, I know much the same could be written about our Latino brothers and sisters, our yet-to-be-documented youth, our families who have recently descended into poverty. Your words also aptly apply to our rehabilitated felons who are seemingly no longer considered full citizens, and also our workers who earn minimum wage for work no politician will do, even as those same leaders push back against efforts to raise the minimum wage.

However, the excruciating impacts of America’s twin original sins — slavery and segregation — leave you no choice but to focus on our black brothers and sisters and their families. Wage justice, criminal justice, social justice, community justice, health justice and environmental justice seem to have been removed from “Equal Justice Under the Law.”

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LA Unified reopens all district libraries — but forgets about the books

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Bell High School’s library before and after. (From LAUSD)

For the first time since some school libraries were shuttered during budget cuts in 2008, all of the LA Unified school libraries will be back up and running when school starts again on August 16.

But according to the latest district estimates, the majority of students across Los Angeles will still be forced to rely on under-stocked library collections filled with outdated materials.

District numbers show that the average age of a book in a LAUSD library is now more than 20 years old, and that the books-per-student ratio is a shocking 35 percent below the state average. Even more dire: Most district schools have only a minimal budget to spend on bridging this gap—if they have any additional library funds at all.

“The libraries are still woefully inadequate, and some librarians are loath to take some off the shelves because they will remain empty,” said Franny Parrish, the political action chairwoman for the California School Employees Association, the union that represents library aides. “We have actually come across books with titles like ‘One Day We Will Put a Man on the Moon’ and that’s absurd. You can’t give obsolete information out, it’s a disservice to the students.”

Some school libraries were closed well before the 2008 cuts — stretching back 10 or even 15 years — and some principals decided to completely close the school libraries rather than depend on parent volunteers to run them, since they may mix up books and cause more confusion. Also, some libraries are staffed through funding by PTAs, and books are replenished by book fairs or school fundraisers, meaning that school libraries in more affluent areas now bear little resemblance to those in poorer neighborhood.

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Manchester Elementary School’s library before and after. (LAUSD)

“It’s wrong to be pimping out our children by having them sell candy to raise money for books or to pay for a library aide,” Parrish said. “It’s offensive. A library should be a necessity for every school.”

Concerned about the decline of school libraries, school board member Monica Ratliff initiated a Modern Library Task Force that issued a report in June 2014 that suggested three years of strategies for the district try to reach the California school library standard of 28 books per student. At the time, LA Unified had only 17.6 books per student.

Today, district numbers show, that number has only increased 1.1 percent to 17.8 books per student.

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JUST IN: Teacher jail numbers rise to 181, costing LA Unified $15 million

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Latest numbers of those reassigned as “housed” employees from LA Unified.

A year after LA Unified pledged to expedite employees “housed” in teacher jails, district numbers show that there are more now than there were at this time a year ago.

According to numbers requested by LA School Report and released Wednesday, 181 LA Unified staff members are being paid to essentially do nothing while awaiting internal investigations about alleged misconduct, while the district has to hire substitutes to do their jobs.

Questions came up when school board members questioned the $15 million that was set aside in the superintendent’s budget that they approved Tuesday evening.

“So these are individuals we’re paying salaries to, and also paying for subs? They are not in the classroom?” asked board member Ref Rodriguez, turning to page 40 of the budget proposed for the next school year and pointing to the line item “Personnel with Pending Cases.” He said that $15 million “is too much, and we have to figure out how to keep moving that forward so that the taxpayers aren’t paying for someone to sit in a room, and if they are innocent they should go back to the classrooms and the money should go back to our kids.”

According to the district, as of June 22 there are 144 teachers and 37 classified employees (such as teacher’s assistants, playground supervisors, bus drivers and janitors) in what the district calls a “housed” situation, but more commonly known as the much-maligned “teacher jails.” The employees are not allowed to do any work, call anyone or be on a computer. They must report for their full day of work and then can go home. Some employees are allowed to serve their time at home as they wait for their names to be cleared. Forty-five of the cases are more than a year old.

Most of the cases (40 percent) involve sexual abuse or harassment allegations, 29 percent involve accusations of violence, and 13 percent involve “below standard performance.” The appropriate cases are referred to Los Angeles police if it’s determined a crime has been committed, and district officials said they try to expedite the cases as quickly as possible.

Last year, the numbers totaled 174 employees — 151 teachers and 23 classified employees — with 37 percent involving sexual harassment or abuse allegations and 32 percent cited for violent behavior.

The district has 26,800 teachers and 30,500 certified employees.

A 15-member Student Safety Investigation Team investigates the cases and either clears the employees or refers them for dismissal. The average length of an investigation is 75 days.

“We are constantly trying to streamline the process and complete the cases as soon as possible,” said Barbara Jones from the LA Unified communications office. “Most of these are new cases that have come up.”

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Ref Rodriguez, Monica Ratliff and Richard Vladovic at the board meeting Tuesday night.

When the issue came up three and a half hours into the discussion of the budget at Tuesday’s regular board meeting, even school board President Steve Zimmer seemed shocked.

“Wait, I want to make sure of this, $15 million is the amount expected that will be centrally housed?” Zimmer asked.

Board member Monica Ratliff pointed out that the number is $5 million less than the $20 million budgeted for this past year.

LA Unified attorney David Holmquist said he thought the last number he heard was 162 cases left in that situation, which Rodriguez said “at least showed that the numbers were going down and being settled.”

But that’s not the case, according to the district’s latest accounting.

Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly explained that the $15 million is the anticipated costs “for our housed employees who are not designated to a school and we are paying for substitutes while there is pending personnel action.”

UTLA, the teachers union, has regular seminars for teachers in this situation and sought to combat the practice. The union has assigned a staff member to assist them.

Noted Los Angeles defense attorney Mark Geragos has an ongoing class-action case against the district on behalf of teacher Rafe Esquith, who was in a teacher jail and then dismissed. The case involves hundreds of teachers who found themselves in teacher jail.

The teacher jail numbers ballooned under former Superintendent John Deasy, when any teacher accused of misconduct was immediately taken out of the classroom. The practice began after the Miramonte Elementary School sexual abuse lawsuit involving former teacher Mark Berndt, which cost the district nearly $140 million. Both succeeding superintendents, Ramon Cortines and Michelle King, vowed to expedite teacher jail cases. Meanwhile, the numbers continue to grow.

Parent groups ask LAUSD to improve engagement

Rachel Greene

Rachel Greene

Leaders from major parent groups brought school board members their recommendations for improving parent involvement in LA Unified.

Topping their list is a centralized Parent Advocate office and website for their concerns, they told board members of the Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Committee on Tuesday. Other  recommendations include involving parents in every principal search committee and providing resources and training.

One simple thing for the district to do is apologize to parents. “Apologizing for mistakes is actually evidence-based and reduces litigation,” said Kathy Kantner, a member of the Community Advisory Committee who spoke Tuesday.

School board member Ref Rodriguez, the committee’s chairman, said, “I’m very excited about this report, this is something we’ve been building up to.”

The biggest problem for parents is trying to figure out how to address grievances because there are so many avenues when dealing with the district’s downtown Beaudry headquarters. The various parent groups formed a study group that spanned all of the Local Districts and came up with suggestions, including:

• Establish an Office of the Parent Advocate with a website and telephone helpline that the parents suggest could be funded by the mayor’s office or LA County Office of Education.

• Hire and train administrators to be service leaders who have positive attitudes toward parental involvement in schools.

• Continue working to engage “everyday parents” but acknowledge and appreciate parent leaders, and perhaps designate them as Parent Ambassadors with different-colored volunteer badges.

• Share power in major decision making, budgets and other committees.

• Provide resources and training to parents when they are on campus at new family orientations, open houses and other events.

• Improve the handling of the use of Disruptive Persons Letters which the district gives to parents who create problems on campus and have their access to the school limited.

“We all know there are people who are struggling with mental issues and substance abuse, but too often these DPLs are given because of a power struggle with parents,” said  Kantner.

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LAUSD rejects 20th Street parent trigger, says no triggers valid in state

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Former superintendent Ramon Cortines with 20th Street families over the summer. (Photo by Omar Cavillo.)

LA Unified has rejected a parent petition to take over a failing elementary school in South Central Los Angeles, reversing district policy and essentially asserting that no California school qualifies under the state “parent trigger” law.

Parents of 20th Street Elementary School were informed of the district’s rejection in a letter late Saturday, the last day the district had to notify the parents. They had hoped to be able to take over the school and possibly create a charter through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act, or parent trigger, which has been used twice to help under-performing LA Unified schools.

“We are so disappointed, all the parents are really upset,” said Guadalupe Aragon, one of the parents who started the petition drive. “We just want our children to have the same opportunities to get to college that other children in the district have, and this was our only way to do it. We are very angry.”

After two years of trying to get changes at the school, and dropping the threatened trigger by the parents at least once, the 20th Street Parents Union filed again last month to take over the school with 57 percent of the families (the parents of 342 students) signing a petition.

“This is shameful,” said former California state senator Gloria Romero, who authored the law, after reading the district’s letter. “They have a brand new superintendent and she is harking to the past, in a sense. Where is the leadership? It’s supposed to be a new game with LA being unified. This does not bode well for the spirit of the law.”

The law was passed in 2010 and used at two LA Unified schools in 2013. That year, statewide tests were suspended in anticipation of computerized tests based on the Common Core State Standards. The following year former Superintendent John Deasy argued that the district was exempt, for one year, from the parent trigger by a federal waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law that allowed LA Unified and seven other California school districts to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards.parent trigger

One of the first things interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines did when he took over was to reverse Deasy’s edict and lift the ban on parent triggers. King worked under both Deasy and Cortines.

King and her staff met with parents only five days before the letter was sent out rejecting their petition. The meeting last Monday, held at district headquarters, was called by King and also attended by representatives of Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which was brought in by the district to see if it might be a solution for the parents.

Joan Sullivan, CEO for Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, said she was invited to attend the meeting at the district to offer some sort of solution for 20th Street. Partnership was offering a hybrid of a charter and traditional school as an option, which they have done in 17 schools over the past eight years in the South Central LA area.

“Parents are asking for a choice, and we could offer a good option,” said Sullivan said. “We take on whole schools and support them with the current student body and most of the staff and use the parent involvement and voice.”

At last week’s meeting, the district “never told us that our school may not be eligible or that there was any problem with our petition,” Aragon said.

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LAUSD closing in on wireless access for all schools — and more

ComputersInformationTechnologyA plan to improve Information Technology at LA Unified is close to getting every school wireless internet access and providing every student access to a computer.

It’s a slower, more methodical strategy than the approach taken by former Superintendent John Deasy, which led to the botched $1.3 billion iPad program, an FBI investigation, his resignation and an abrupt end to the program.

The 2015-2016 Strategic Execution Plan proposed by Shahryar Khazei, the district’s chief information officer, will “provide our schools with the infrastructure and equipment they need to teach all the students the skills they will need for success in the 21st century workforce,” he said.

Among the goals and expected accomplishments by the end of this school year are:

  • Replacing deteriorated cables, switchers and routers and increasing bandwidth at 461 schools.
  • Modernizing 95 percent of the existing school networks at 357 schools,
  • Adding 37 technology aides to give direct support to schools.
  • Providing greater network security at 92 percent of the schools, or 686 of 749.

The program doesn’t come without extra costs, paid for by local bond measures and a federal program. The budget increased by $14 million for the Instructional Technology Initiative, and the MiSiS budget increased by $100 million.

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Commentary: Don’t expect ‘super’ in LA Unified’s next superintendent

superintendent searchThe finish line is in view. In all likelihood, by this time next week, LA Unified will have its next superintendent.

Just who that will be remains uncertain to the world beyond the seven board members and a few district officials. The process has been moving along at a relatively brisk pace, considering the enormity of the job, and to the board’s credit, there have been no leaks.

But it’s not that difficult to speculate on the kind off superintendent this board wants to lead the district: In short, the person selected will have qualifications, background and political savvy as close to Ramon Cortines and as far from John Deasy as possible.

More than anything, this board does not want a superintendent with a strong, independent vision or aggressive agenda: Cortines won the board’s love by anticipating where the majority of support lies on a given issue, then acting on it. He also offered wise counsel, reflecting his decades of work in administration.

But as in any other high-profile election —  and that is what this is, with board members who view public education through vastly different prisms — the winning candidate will not satisfy every constituent group on every important issue.

More than likely, the new superintendent will come from a mid-sized to large school district that has been run effectively and without the drama usually present here as it plays out in opposing philosophical views about charter schools and the ever-present challenge to satisfy the district’s largest labor partners.

Given the size of LA Unified as measured by its budget, student population, facilities and needs, there is likely not a Super-superintendent in the wings. The choice will be a mortal, with more strengths than weaknesses, but weaknesses nonetheless; more of a collaborator than a decider, more a steady doubles hitter than a home run threat who strikes out as often as clears the bases.

If that is, indeed, the ideal candidate, and more than one candidate remains under consideration, the final choice in a city as diverse as Los Angeles could be determined by demographics: Since 1937, LA Unified boards have tended to choose white men, with an occasional black (David Brewer) and Latino (Ruben Zacarias, Cortines). What they have never chosen is a woman.

The guess here is that any of the remaining candidates would be acceptable to the board, and the person selected will be the one judged to have the highest ratio of assets to liabilities, gender notwithstanding. And the only element of skin that will matter is not the color but the thickness, for the criticism sure to follow.

The long good-bye: Cortines bids farewell (again) to LA Unified

CortinesFarewell2This is the final week of school before winter break for the LA Unified school district, and it’s the remaining few days in office for Superintendent Ramon Cortines as he completes his final farewell tour.

His last full workday was last Friday, and it included an emergency meeting with the Southern California Gas Company to get the latest update on a gas leak in Porter Ranch and how it affects the safety of two nearby schools. The safety of the students remains a primary concern for the 83-year-old superintendent, who is bidding farewell to the district for the third time.

As a personal joke, Cortines created a “For Rent” sign and taped it to the outside of his office on the 24th floor of the Beaudry St. headquarters.

It’s been one year and one month since he took over after John Deasy resigned in a wave of controversy. Cortines bookended Deasy’s tenure, serving from 2009 to 2011 before retiring the first time. He also served in 2000 as superintendent before Roy Romer was named to the position.

Everyone knew Cortines had planned to leave by the end of this calendar year, and he pushed the school board to find a successor, a process now in the final stages. A week before school started this year, he gave his State-of-the-District speech at Garfield High School, also knowing it would be the last time he would address a large gathering of teachers and principals.

He used that time to talk directly to the school board—and to tease them–saying, “I’ve been blessed to share many unforgettable memories with them. Well some of them. I’m reminded of my many meetings with Mr. [Richard] Vladovic in his field office–the Starbucks in San Pedro.”

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A year later, secrecy surrounds FBI probe of LAUSD’s iPad program

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Former LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy

On Dec. 1 it will be a year since FBI agents showed up at LA Unified’s headquarters with a federal grand jury subpoena and carted off 20 boxes of documents related to the district’s controversial iPad program.

Since that day little if any new information has been publicly revealed about the investigation’s status, and that is primarily due to the secrecy laws that surround federal grand juries. Unless the jury issues an indictment or an investigative report, the evidence and testimony is by law to remain forever sealed, and leaks of federal grand jury evidence are extremely rare.

With almost a year passed since the subpoena, it is possible the grand jury found no evidence of wrong doing and has dissolved, but James A. Cohen, an associate law professor at Fordham University, said it’s unusual — though not impossible — for a grand jury investigation to take more than a year.

“It’s coming up on a year in December. It’s a long period, no question. It’s not that unusual, but it is still on the unusual side,” he said.

Cohen helps run Fordham’s Federal Litigation Clinic, which represents defendants charged with federal crimes; he has also written about and researched the grand jury system. Cohen pointed out that an LA Unified school board agenda item from August, as was reported by LA School Report, indicates that the district’s lawyers might have foreseen trouble coming from the investigation or a related lawsuit.

The brief item, which simply said the board was going to discuss the case in a closed session, was listed on the agenda due to a state law that reads “on the advice of its legal counsel, based on existing facts and circumstances, there is a significant exposure to litigation against the local agency.”

Cohen said this is an important indicator.

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Search firm creates the profile for LAUSD’s next superintendent

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 1.45.10 PMIt doesn’t matter if the next superintendent is a he or she, but it does matter if the he or she is bilingual. The person should be good at communicating and love Los Angeles. And, the candidate should have been a teacher at one point in his or her career.

Those are some of the findings in the draft Leadership Profile compiled by the search firm hired to seek candidates for the next LA Unified superintendent.

In preparation for a public presentation tomorrow to the LAUSD school board, the search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates posted an array of responses collected from the surveys and from the 100-plus community meetings and interviews the firm held. The data dump includes breakdowns of the kinds of people they’ve heard from as well as all the comments posted on the surveys and all of the issues brought up at community meetings and by the board members.

From the seven school board members themselves, the suggestions included finding a fast learner, a listener, someone who cares about children and education, and someone who is media savvy.

A total of 9,461 people filled out the survey either online or on paper, and the same number of teachers filled out the survey as did parents (about 28 percent each). The number of students filling out the online survey was higher than the number of administrators (10 percent compared with about 8 percent).

A total of 1,605 people participated in interviews and focus groups, and the number of “community members” attending was higher than the combined totals of teachers, staff and students.

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The ‘reanimation’ of John Deasy, will the next superintendent be a native?

school report buzzUTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl released a 12-minute video on YouTube today in which he asks members to vote for a dues increase.

According to Caputo-Pearl, the union has not updated its dues structure since its inception 45 years ago, which now “literally threatens the future of UTLA.”

In the video, Caputo-Pearl points out that UTLA’s monthly fees are lower than other large teacher unions in the country and lower than most other teacher unions in the state.

The video also includes a humorous reference to former LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy, who resigned a year ago. Deasy and Caputo-Pearl locked horns frequently, but now Deasy is working at the Broad Center, and its affiliated Broad Foundation is currently developing a plan to expand charter schools in the district to include half of all students.

reanimator_1024x1024Caputo-Pearl claims in the video that UTLA has confirmed that Deasy is, in fact, the architect of the plan, which was outlined in a 48-page draft report. Caputo-Pearl calls this the “reanimation” of Deasy. Reanimation? Is that a reference to the 80s cult classic film, “Re-Animator“?

The film is about a doctor who discovers how to bring corpses back from the dead. Using the film as a metaphor, it certainly shows the ironic position Caputo-Pearl finds himself in. He helped chase Deasy out of the district, which he hailed as a “victory” for UTLA. But now Deasy is arguably in a much more powerful position as he allegedly orchestrates a plan that would wipe out half of the jobs of UTLA members.

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LAUSD board sees ‘significant exposure’ from FBI’s iPad probe

FBI logoEver since the FBI seized documents in December related to LA Unified’s controversial iPad program, there have been no public updates on the case, but now it appears that the LA Unified school board and its legal department see trouble coming.

It is just a single line in the agenda for tomorrow’s closed board meeting, but it may speak volumes.

Described as “anticipated litigation,” the board will be discussing possible ramifications of the FBI probe, arising out of state law that reads, “A point has been reached where, in the opinion of the legislative body of the local agency on the advice of its legal counsel, based on existing facts and circumstances, there is a significant exposure to litigation against the local agency.”

The document seizure happened as the result of a federal grand jury subpoena looking into potential bid rigging in the district’s $1.3 billion Common Core Technology Program, which sought to get a computer tablet in the hands of every student and teacher in the district.

Due to the secrecy laws surrounding federal grand juries, little has been known about the nature of the investigation since the seizure. But the board’s closed meeting agenda is the first indication that a grand jury might have identified legal problems with how the district conducted the bid process and, as a result, that the district might face legal action. No indictments have been brought in the case, and federal law requires that details of the grand jury investigations remain sealed unless one is brought.

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UTLA making clear to LAUSD board what it wants in next superintendent

UTLAAn open and transparent search, background as an educator and under no circumstances someone from the Broad Academy. Those are the three major criteria that UTLA wants in the next LAUSD school superintendent.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, told the LA School Report that he has made it known to the school board the kind of superintendent teachers want in a successor to Ramon Cortines.

“So far we have been advocating these three issues,” he said. “We want the process to be transparent and open and understandable. It can’t be a move from the corner office to the front office like John Deasy was last time around and without a process. That didn’t work out well.”

The search process is now underway, with the board set to pick an executive search firm on Sunday. There’s a deadline to the extent that Cortines says he want to step down by December. At the outside, the board wants a successor in place before the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

Once the finalists are chosen, Caputo-Pearl is advocating public meetings where educators, parents and the community can ask the candidates questions and voice concerns. “We need to see how they get to engage with folks,” he said.

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LA teachers planning campaign to oppose charter expansion

Alex Caputo Pearl LAUSD Board meeting-9.9.14 charter

UTLA President Alex Caputo Pearl

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UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl said the teachers union is planning an aggressive campaign to oppose Eli Broad and other wealthy foundation leaders who have announced plans for a major expansion of charter schools in LA Unified.

In a wide-ranging interview that focused on the state of charters in the district, Caputo-Pearl was highly critical of the effort, asserting that charters are undermining the ability of traditional district schools to maintain a quality education for all students.

“We’re going to make every effort that we can to organize against the expansion of what are essentially unregulated non-union schools that don’t play by the rules as everybody else,” Caputo-Pearl told LA School Report. “So we’re going to take that on in the public, take that on in the media, engage the school board on it. We’re going to try to engage Eli Broad. We’re going to try to engage John Deasy because we understand he’s the architect of it. It will be a major effort. It is a major concern.”

The charter expansion plans involve three major foundations that have been active for years in education reform across the country: the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the W.M. Keck Foundation. They said they intend to create enough charter schools in eight years to serve as many as half of LA Unified students.

The California Charter School Association has consistently denied that there are separate rules for charters, pointing to the fact that charters have to demonstrate academic achievement and financial stability to remain operating. Many charters do employ non-union teachers, but UTLA in recent years has succeeded in unionizing a number of them.

Caputo-Pearl’s targeting of Deasy evolves from Deasy’s association with Broad before and after he served as LA Unified’s superintendent. Before he was hired in 2011, Deasy attended the Broad Academy, which prepares senior executives for roles in urban education. He resigned as superintendent last year after problems with the iPad program, leading to a federal investigation of the bid process. Currently, he is a consultant for The Broad Center, a separate non-proft organization that helps train future education leaders.

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Cortines promises MiSiS is fixed and ready to go as new school year opens

RamonCortinesLooking to calm any last-minute fears that the start of the new school year will mirror last year’s troublesome beginning, LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines is promising that the MiSiS computer system has been fixed and will operate smoothy when schools open later this month.

“MiSiS is the heart of this district,” he said in a statement from the district. “After months of tireless repairs, our heart has some new stents, replaced valves, a pacemaker, and reduced cholesterol, and it is pumping much stronger.”

It was a mighty sick patient a year ago, with malfunctions causing computer breakdowns, scheduling nightmares and other distuptions. Jefferson High School was hit the hardest, with the MiSiS problems leading to a walkout after hundreds of students were left without proper class schedules.

MiSiS was given an original price tag of $29 million, but it has ballooned to $133 million. The additional investment of funds and personnel has paid off, Cortines said.

“Despite the challenges we’ve faced, I’ve never seen so much excitement and enthusiasm for the start of the school year,” he said. “Everyone has come together to help pick up the broken pieces of our schools and put them back together again. I’m very grateful that the LAUSD community was there to take action.”

The district said technical teams have spent the past year rebuilding MiSiS — My Integrated Student Information System — to ensure that class schedules and attendance programs will be operating properly when classes begin on Aug. 18. The district said its experts will be available to resolve any last-minute issues.

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LA Unified board preparing first step toward hiring new superintendent

Superintendent Ray Cortines

The LA Unified board takes its first step in choosing a new superintendent, with a largely closed door meeting scheduled for tomorrow night.

It’s a baby step, with the seven-member board most likely deciding on the parameters and requirements for a head-hunting firm that will bring them the top names for the position.

While it’s a lofty job and a challenge for any search firm, given the complexities of LA Unified in terms of size, annual budget and classroom demands, there are a handful of companies that specialize in educators and school administrators, such as Korn Ferry Executive Recruitment and Talent Management based in Los Angeles, which was hired for two past superintendent searches.

This time the board is seeking a successor for Ramon Cortines (again), who stepped in after John Deasy left last year. Cortines, who was hired without a search firm, has said he wants to leave by the end of the year but might agree to stay until an ideal replacement is found.

The administrative position paid Deasy nearly $440,000 a year salary. That’s more than the governor makes, and about $100,000 more than the district is paying Cortines. This second-largest school district in the nation has about 644,000 students.

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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.

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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