Analysis: Aquino’s Resignation Turns a Spotlight onto Deasy

Superintendent Deasy

Superintendent Deasy

Jaime Aquino‘s surprise announcement Friday that he’ll resign from Superintendent John Deasy‘s staff at the end of the year has sent shockwaves throughout LA Unified. Tomorrow, the district school board will take up the matter in closed session.

It’s unclear what they’ll discus – but his impending departure has exposed the district and its fractured board to a number of sudden and burning questions, not least of which may be:

Is Deasy Next?

On election night in March, just as it was becoming clear that Steve Zimmer was going to hold off a tough challenge by Kate Anderson, I got an email from a semi-prominent school reformer, offering three bold pronoucements: there would be a new board president (there is), there would be a new makeup of the board (there is) and Deasy would be on his way out. My correspondent told me: “Enough board interference makes his job really unfun and he leaves for greener pastures.”

They were unusual predictions, coming as they did months before Monica Ratliff pulled off a shock upset against Antonio Sanchez. Deasy’s staff is certainly frustrated by the new makeup of the board, as evidenced by Aquino’s departure. When asked last Friday if he was thinking about resigning, Deasy declined to comment – an ominous response coming from the man who told LAUSD administrators little more than a month ago, “I and this administration are not going anywhere.”

And that’s just the first question awaiting resolution:

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Update: Reform Coalition Faces Power Vacuum

CSR logoEducation reformers met Friday afternoon to discuss the disastrous results of the 2013 School Board elections and to consider what form the their efforts should take in the future.

“It was a meeting to discuss what had happened in my election and what we should think about the future of LAUSD,” said Kate Anderson, who unsuccessfully ran for LAUSD School Board against Board member Steve Zimmer.

But other sources who attended the meeting characterized the mood of the meeting  as rudderless.

“Nothing came out of it,” said one frustrated reformer who was there. “It was just another sort of, ‘the ed reformers lost, what can we do about it?’ There’s a lot of those meetings. There’s no clear next actionable plan.”

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Campaign 2013: What Next for the Coalition for School Reform?

CSR logo“The Reformers Are Dead, Long Live the Reformers,” ran the headline to a story by Howard Blume, noting that reformers faced an “uncertain future” after losing two out of three School Board races.

But that story was actually written in 2003 — back when Blume was writing for the LA Weekly rather than his current gig at the LA Times — and concerned a different Coalition: the Coalition for Kids, headed by then-Mayor Richard Riordan.

Ten years later, the story is pretty much the same — only the names have changed. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Coalition for School Reform just spent over $4 million on three races, losing all but one.

And, with Villaraigosa on his way out, some donors fuming at their expensive defeat, and with the very usefulness of independent expenditure (IE) campaigns fueled by big-money donations being questioned, the Coalition yet again faces an uncertain future.

Possible changes that may be discussed at a Friday meeting include dissolving as an organization, creating a year-round non-profit advocacy group, or simply changing names when the next Board elections take place in two years.

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Parent Group Petitions for Superintendent Deasy

“Nothing makes me happier than seeing parents mobilize to support the changes underway in LAUSD,” writes former School Board candidate Kate Anderson in a recent email.  ”Just such a mobilization is underway and you can take part.”

Anderson’s talking about the Support Our Superintendent petition that’s been circulating the past few days.

Signed by more than 1,200 people, with a goal of 2,000 by today, the petition’s purpose is “to support the work of Superintendent Deasy and the policies he has put in place.” It’s also meant to counter-balance the various UTLA polls and surveys that are meant to show teacher dissatisfaction with Superintendent Deasy.

The organizers are rallying from 10:30 – noon at the LAUSD headquarters on Beaudry today — the same day that teachers and SEIU members are also rallying.

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Anderson: Turnout Projections Crippled Field Budget

Former District 4 (Westside/Hollywood) School Board candidate Kate Anderson sounded relaxed and content during a phone interview yesterday afternoon.

The Mar Vista parent laughed easily and often, and said she was getting to see her children a lot more in the month since the March 5 primary.

But she wasn’t without ideas and regrets in terms of the campaign she’d just been through against District 4 School Board Member Steve Zimmer.

Many of her observations about the race — low turnout on primary day and the unwanted distractions of the outside contributions to the Coalition for School Reform — are familiar.

However, Anderson also put a finger on inaccurate voter turnout projections that shaped her campaign budget decisions and ultimately sealed her fate.

If she’d known how low turnout was really going to be, her campaign would have spent less on a big initial early mailing.

“I would have mailed to a much smaller universe at the start, and then focused much more on the field.”

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A Good – But Not Great – Campaign, Say Reform Insiders

Insiders who spoke with LA School Report over the past few days generally rejected criticisms aimed by some outside observers at the Coalition for School Reform-funded campaign to elect a slate of reform-minded candidates to the LAUSD School Board.

“Because Kate [Anderson] lost, every single thing [the Coalition] did looks wrong,” said one insider who — like most of those contacted for this story — declined to talk on the record.

In particular, insiders denounced the notion that the campaign consultants hired by the Coalition were incompetent or conflicted by their work for other clients including labor groups.

“The way consultants get clients is by winning,” said another insider.  “Pulling punches for the possibility of future client work makes no sense.”

However, the insiders – a half-dozen campaign and school reform veterans familiar with the Coalition and its consultants — generally agreed that there were specific strategic decisions and actions that SCN Strategies, the consulting firm hired to do most of the Coalition-funded work, might have wished it had decided differently – and might have affected the outcome of the District 4 race, which Zimmer won with 52 percent of the votes.

One insider described SCN as “good people who didn’t run a great campaign.“

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Mayor Overreached Against Zimmer, Says Reformer

Last week’s School Board primary outcome wasn’t a win or even a mixed result for Mayor Villaraigosa and his merry band of reformers, according to former state senator Gloria Romero. It was a big loss.

Romero has had public disagreements with Villaraigosa in the past, and she first made her negative assessment of the outcome in an LA Times piece last week.

Now, in a new Orange County Register commentary, the head of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) – California writes, “The balance of power on the school board has shifted away from the mayor, who overreached, and from the broader reform community.” Continue reading

After Election, Board Status Quo Remains Intact

After months of campaigning, thousands of trees chopped down and turned into glossy direct mail, and nearly $6 million spent, last night’s LAUSD Board election left the  ideological makeup of the School Board essentially untouched.

Incumbent Monica Garcia won her re-election outright, garnering a very healthy 56% of the vote. In District 6, Antonio Sanchez is heading toward a runoff with the second-place finisher, Monica Ratliff. Incumbent Steve Zimmer appears to have been reelected as well, although there are still a number of provisional and late absentee ballots yet to be counted.

As of noon, a Coalition for School Reform consultant held out hope that there could be as many as 20,000 votes still to be counted in the Westside’s District 4, and said there was an outside chance the outcome could still change.

Challenger Kate Anderson, meanwhile, sounded as if she had conceded the race. “I’m disappointed,” she told LA School Report. “We expected it to be close. We felt such energy and momentum in the field. And if you look at the results, we lost on absentee ballots. Our feeling in the field wasn’t wrong, it just wasn’t enough.

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Westside Teachers Dial for Zimmer

Grand View Elementary teacher Irene Perez making calls at Carrow’s

About 20 teachers sat down in the back room of a Carrow’s restaurant in Santa Monica last night making phone calls reminding registered voters to vote for UTLA-backed District 4 incumbent Steve Zimmer.

Volunteers were given cell phones, a list of phone numbers and were allowed to order a meal for up to $10 plus a drink (no alcohol though). The goal: call voters to remind them to vote.

“I wanted to see if you’ll join us in helping to elect Steve Zimmer tomorrow,” a tentative Grand View Elementary teacher Irene Perez said into the phone, as her son Kingston ate from a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

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Listen: Zimmer & Anderson Face Off on KPCC

Click here to listen to a half-hour discussion with District 4 competitors Steve Sanchez and Kate Anderson on KPCC yesterday afternoon.

Towards the end of the discussion, Zimmer makes the case that School Board seats shouldn’t be bought by outside interests, and Anderson points out that she’s done a ton of her own independent fundraising.

Morning Read: Will Board Race Motivate Voters?

Races for LA Unified’s School Board Attract Millions; Will They Also Attract Voters?
Based on the media coverage and celebrity endorsements this LAUSD school board election has received, you’d think sitting on the seven-member panel was one of the most glamorous jobs in LA. KPCC


How Outside Spending Is Changing the Race to Represent Northeast San Fernando Valley Schools
Sanchez has been able to hire three paid staff members, had more than a dozen mailers go out on his behalf and was the subject of a commercial that aired during Lakers games. KPCC


Steve Zimmer and Kate Anderson Face off on AirTalk
Both candidates talk about where they stand on Deasy, why Zimmer does not agree with charter school expansion and Anderson is pushing for it, and if teacher evaluations can be tied to student performance.. KPCC


L.A. Unified, Other School Districts Seek New Measures of Success
Nine California school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, will apply to the U.S. Department of Education for relief from rules that, over time, have labeled most schools that receive federal funds as failing, officials announced Thursday. LA Times
See also: LA Daily News


Arne Duncan’s Education ‘Sequester’ Claims Questioned
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has long been seen as an administration asset. But this past week, he’s also been the chief spokesman for the White House claims about the potential impact of sequestration on education jobs. Now those estimates have run afoul of fact-checkers. EdWeek

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Outside Spending Skyrockets

A massive spending spree of $3.4 million by outside groups has broken records in the Los Angeles School Board races with still seven days left before the election. That’s an increase of $1 million in just a week, according to the latest figures available at the LA City Ethics Commission.

Low voter turnout and a fierce battle between two groups split along ideological lines could make this race one of the costliest per-voter in nation. Based on turnout figures from past elections, outside groups could spend more than $29 for each vote in this School Board election. That dwarfs the outside per-vote spending in the 2012 Presidential race, which was estimated by ProPublica to cost $8 a vote.

Continue reading for details on the big influx of money. Continue reading

Zimmer Volunteers Focus on Reaching District 4 Voters

Volunteers gather in District 4 candidate Steve Zimmer’s campaign office before they prepare to walk the precinct.

An energetic crowd gathered early on a Saturday morning to listen to a pep talk from District 4 incumbent Steve Zimmer before hitting the pavement to walk the precinct.

Standing on a chair to address the crowd, Zimmer spoke of his appreciation for their efforts and pride in the commitment of those who showed up, including some of his former students.

“The most important thing that each of you can bring today to these doorsteps is your own story,” Zimmer said. “Your experience with me as a board member and as a leader of this district, that’s what actually makes a difference when people go to the ballot box.”

About 65 volunteers snacked on bagels and cream cheese at the West Hollywood campaign office overlooking Sunset Boulevard before gathering in teams to head out. Continue reading

Update: Daily News Matches LA Times Endorsements

Here’s what the LA Daily News has to say in its new LAUSD School Board endorsements –  the same three candidates who were endorsed earlier this month by the LA Times editorial page, albeit not entirely for the same reasons:

District 2: Monica Garcia: “She has been a consistent, if sometimes lukewarm, supporter of reform.”

District 4: Kate Anderson: She is “squarely in the camp of education reform – but sane reform that doesn’t hand over our public schools to private interests.”

District 6: Monica Ratliff: “Ratliff may be a teacher, and a UTLA chapter chair at that, but her platform is pure students-first. Her platform encompasses standard reform issues from curbing teacher tenure to encouraging more charterlike flexibility at the school sites.”

Previous posts: Who Won the LA Times Endorsement Contest?Times Endorses Garcia, Anderson, & Ratliff 

Morning Read: District 4 Race Will Affect Entire District

Could a Single School Board Race Determine the Future of LAUSD?
If Zimmer loses to challenger Kate Anderson, both sides agree, that will permanently tip the scales 4 to 3 in favor of a board that pushes for more charter expansion and data based teacher evaluations.KPCC


Donations From Independent Groups Shaping City, LAUSD Elections
Independent expenditures continue to dominate the school board election, with reform- and union-backed organizations battling to guide the future of the nation’s second-largest school district. LA Daily News
See also: LA School Report


In Their Words: L.A. Mayor Candidates Answer the Times’ Questions
Readers will find that some answers are clear and emphatic, and some are carefully hedged. A couple of candidates left questions unanswered. But in a race where the competitors are scrambling to break away from the pack, voters can find a few revealing contrasts. LA Times


California Trails Nation in Reading, Math and Science, Report Finds
California has largely trailed the rest of the country in reading, mathematics and science in the last decade, according to an analysis released Thursday of test results from the five most populous states. LA Times
See also: SI&A Cabinet Report

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Morning Read: Rhee, Longoria Join Fray Over LAUSD

Michelle Rhee Group Donates $250,000 to Candidates in LAUSD Races
A group led by former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee donated $250,000 Wednesday to contests for seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education, adding further political fuel to a battle over the direction of reform efforts in the nation’s second-largest school system. LA Times
More campaign coverage here: KPCC, Jewish JournalNBC LA


L.A. Votes: Greuel Fights Back 
With the clock ticking down to election day, the Los Angeles mayor’s race is getting testy. LA Times


LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy Seeks No Child Left Behind Waivers
With California unable to get a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law, LAUSD and nine other districts have launched an effort to create their own data-based accountability systems — and have more freedom in how to spend tens of millions in federal dollars. LA Daily News


More Students Taking and Passing Advanced Placement Exams
More students in the Los Angeles Unified School District took and passed an Advanced Placement exam last year, reflecting a rise in success on the college-level tests in California and nationwide. LA Times
See also LADN
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D4 Challenger Anderson Rebuts Union Attack

Kate Anderson

As we reported here last week, the union independent expenditure committee called UTLA-PACE has sent out a campaign mailer to attack LAUSD Board candidate Kate Anderson, who is challenging incumbent Steve Zimmer in the Westside/Hollywood’s District 4.

But according to Anderson, the claims being made are “completely misleading:”

The mailer scrutinizes Anderson’s attendance record while she served on the LA County Child Care Planning Committee and accuses her of running for the School Board simply because she’s angling for a higher political office.

According to Anderson, however, her husband Peter often showed up at the meetings in her stead – a common practice. The mailer also neglects to mention that the attendance of other members at Committee’s meetings was similarly inconsistent. “For me, it was a volunteer work. I was serving on the committee as a parent, while also working at my law firm,” Anderson said.

As for the claim that she’s not dedicated to education issues? “The idea that I’m not committed to kids to ludicrous,” Anderson said.

Previous posts: UTLA-PACE Attacks District 4 Challenger Anderson; Outside Spending Tops $2 Million, Grows Negative; Attack on Zimmer Wasn’t from Anderson Campaign

UTLA-PACE Attacks District 4 Challenger Anderson

An election mailer sent out this week by UTLA-PACE is just the latest negative entry in the high-stakes LAUSD election.

Image of Kate Anderson from UTLA-PACE mailer

UTLA-PACE’s new mailer targets candidate Kate Anderson, who is running against LAUSD Board incumbent Steve Zimmer for a seat representing the Westside and Hollywood’s District 4.

Among other things, the mailer accuses Anderson of wanting “to use school board as a path to higher office,” and criticizes her for missing a high number of meetings when she served for three years on the LA County Child Care Planning Committee. Click here to see the front and back of the mailer.

The 2013 LAUSD Board races are getting ever-closer to breaking $4.5 million school board election spending records. As LA School Report has noted, negative ads have already begun and could increase in the next two weeks. The Coalition for School Reform launched a television ad that accuses Zimmer of being unsupportive of the arts. The UTLA-PACE website blames District 2 incumbent Monica Garcia for budget cuts and layoffs.

Previous posts: Coalition TV Ad Attacks Zimmer over Robert Kennedy School; UTLA-PACE Spends, Bloomberg Donates; Attack on Zimmer Wasn’t from Anderson Campaign

Attack on Zimmer Wasn’t from Anderson Campaign

Steve Zimmer and Kate Anderson

LA School Report has learned a little of the backstory behind a recent election-focused post that was published on former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch’s blog.

As you may know, Ravitch urged her readers to support District 4 (Hollywood and Westside) incumbent Steve Zimmer and oppose his challenger Kate Anderson, based in large part on an email from a Zimmer supporter who accused Anderson’s canvassers of “spreading lies” — specifically, that “Zimmer is against the arts.”

The email Ravitch posted came from a former LAUSD employee, and the canvasser wasn’t with the official Anderson campaign. The Coalition for School Reform won’t verify it was one its canvassers, but the claim against Zimmer resembles its most recent District 4 TV ad. The Zimmer campaign claims that its candidate is a strong supporter of the arts.

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