New Item on Board Agenda: ‘Separation’ from Deasy

LAUSDlogoIf John Deasy is, indeed, stepping down as superintendent of the LA Unified School District, the district appears to be moving to protect itself against a lawsuit.

When reached by phone, Deasy would only tell LA School Report that he has “not submitted a letter of resignation” and that he can’t talk before he meets with the board members tomorrow.

But a revised agenda (click here) for tomorrow’s board meeting was posted on the school board website over the weekend, with one addition to the closed-door discussion:

“Conference With Legal Counsel – Anticipated Litigation -
Significant Exposure To Litigation Pursuant To Gov. Code
Section 54956.9(d)(2) (1 Case) – Superintendent’s Separation.”

From the California Code, here’s what the section refers to:

“(2) 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.”

It’s unclear whether this language reflects due diligence by LA Unified’s legal team or new concern by the board that Deasy might have cause for legal action in response to rumors that board members may have played a role in his departure by leaking it to reporters. By terms of Deasy’s contract, he can be fired with 30 days notice.

LA Unified Board Finally Gives Deasy His Common Core Budget

IMG_2665The LAUSD School Board today finally approved a $113 million budget for transitioning to the Common Core curriculum. The 6-1 vote marked the end of a tumultuous and seemingly directionless process that led to the resignation of Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Jaime Aquino, an LA Times editorial calling the Board “dysfunctional,” and finally to Mayor Eric Garcetti wading in to Board politics for the first time.

Aquino was conspicuously absent from the proceedings. As Deputy Superintendent of Instruction, he has been a chief architect of the Common Core transition. He said on Friday that he would resign at the end of the year because of what he sees as school board meddling.

“Due to the announcement of my resignation, I have decided not to do any public engagement during my transition period,” Aquino told LA School Report in an email, when asked why he wasn’t at today’s board meeting. “My focus will be to work behind the scenes to ensure a smooth transition.”

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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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Deciphering the Kayser Letter (updated)

242764260-07182006Reporters were left scrambling late Friday afternoon when they received copies of a letter sent by School Board member Bennett Kayser to Superintendent John Deasy, asking Deasy to develop a “succession plan” for the superintendent and other senior staff.

The letter was littered with typos: The date at the top read “7/19/23.” The word “therefore” was spelled “therefor.” The word “prescribed” was spelled “proscribed,” which has an altogether different meaning. And the overall tone was strangely vague, leaving some with the impression that this was the first sign of a move to fire Deasy, although Kayser insisted otherwise.

“I simply want to know who the person is that is designated to step into the superintendent’s shoes when he is out of town, as he was this week, and who he has trained and expects to step in were the unexpected to happen; no more, no less,” Kayser said in a statement given to the LA Times

Indeed, Deasy and some members of his senior staff were in Washington, D.C. last week lobbying the federal government on behalf of nine California school districts for a “No Child Left Behind” waiver. A source close the the school board told LA School Report that Kayser and his chief of staff, Sarah Bradshaw, had tried to contact Deasy last week and could not reach him. The impetus of the letter, then, was what to do when Deasy was out of town, and who was steering the ship. But use of the phrase, “succession plan” — perhaps deliberately — confused matters, making it seem like a move to replace the embattled Superintendent.

“To some degree, Sarah Bradshaw is right,” said the source, pointing to a need to clarify who’s in charge when the superintendent is away. But, he added, “to some degree Sarah Bradshaw is a trouble maker. She’s going to antagonize Deasy, through Kayser, every chance she gets.”

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Zimmer to Celebrate Re-Election at Hollywood High*

photo-300x300After an against-all-odds re-election against challenger Kate Anderson in the District 4 primary earlier this year, School Board member Steve Zimmer is celebrating at Hollywood High School on Wednesday afternoon.

“This was a very significant re-election because of the national involvement,” said a spokesperson from Zimmer’s office. “We want to celebrate the teachers, students, parents and principals who were involved.”

The open event begins at 5:30 p.m. with a reception and 250 people are expected to attend.  Those who do may get a preview of Zimmer’s thinking and priorities going forward:

“I want to celebrate our accomplishments and the share my dreams and vision for our next four years fighting together for the education our kids deserve,” said Zimmer in a letter to supporters published in the Pacific Palisades Patch.

*Correction: Quote from Zimmer’s office was misattributed.

Previous Posts: Zimmer Reversal Likely Ends Garcia Presidency, Why Zimmer *Really* Switched Sides, Stuck in the Middle: Steve Zimmer, How Steve Zimmer *Really* Won

Marathon Board Meeting Signals Changes to Come

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 11.50.39 AM

Superintendent John Deasy, Board President Monica Garcia, and departing Board member Nury Martinez

As anyone following us on Twitter knows all too well, Tuesday’s School Board meeting was a marathon session that lasted well into the night – much of it accompanied by the sound of protesters drumming on the street outside.

Among several key decisions the Board arrived at during the lengthy session were votes to award a $30 million contract to Apple, close a charter school that had dodged a district audit, and add some local regulations to the controversial parent trigger process (but not call for the law’s repeal).

The last meeting of the 2012-2013 school year, it also marked the final appearance of Nury Martinez, who left the Board after four years to run for City Council.

School Board President Monica Garcia presented Martinez with a giant bell, and Board held a bizarre mid-meeting reception in her honor that included a soft jazz band and chicken salad sandwiches.

By 9 pm, when the meeting finally ended, the Board had also approved its 2013-14 budget and begun a furious (and likely to be long-running) debate on how to spend future revenue increases.

If last month’s Board meeting represented a series of hard-fought victories for Superintendent John Deasy and his allies on the Board, last night’s meeting included a couple of losses, with a hint of more to come when the Board changes composition and leadership next month.

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People: Behind the Scenes with David Tokofsky

tokofskyJowled and affable, David Tokofsky is the kind of guy who can’t get in the door of Camilo’s California Bistro before being recognized and greeted by other patrons and distributing handshakes to the waitstaff.

Officially, the 53 year-old Eagle Rock resident is a part-time consultant for the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), the school administrators’ union.

His Twitter bio lists him as a “recovering skool bored member” – a jokey reference to Tokofsky’s 12-year Board stint, which ended several years ago.

But that barely touches the surface of Tokofsky’s connections.

Tokofsky is perhaps the quintessential behind-the-scenes player in Los Angeles education circles, operating as something between a professional gadfly and éminence grise.

He’s an LAUSD graduate, UTLA classroom veteran, and a consultant with clients including charter schools and traditional education agencies.

And behind the scenes, he talks with everyone – Board members, union leaders, community heads, and journalists – about topics as varied as budgets, politics,  policy, and personnel.

“It’s hard to find any issue he doesn’t have his fingerprint on,” says Edgar Zazueta, Director of Government Relations with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But as influential and ubiquitous as he’s said to be, Tokofsky’s hard to pin down on the issues and reluctant to talk about his behind-the-scenes accomplishments.

He knows and works with everyone, and he generally leans towards pro-union positions,  but his influence and allegiances remain something of an enigma — and that may be just the way Tokofsky wants it.

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School Board Gives Final Approval to 24th St. Plan

24th Street Elementary School parent speaks in favor of the new plan for the school

Tuesday’s Board meeting began with a moment of silence for the victims and survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing and the memory of teacher and activist Sal Castro.

During the following hours came several key decisions including the unanimous passage of Board member Tamar Galatzan’s resolution to streamline teacher misconduct investigations and the unanimous renewal for the beleaguered charter school Ivy Academia, whose founders were recently convicted of embezzling public funds.

Perhaps the highlight of the session was Board’s 5-1 vote to approve the much-discussed “parent trigger” plan for 24th St. Elementary School to be jointly managed by the district and Crown Preparatory Academy, a charter operator.

The one dissenting vote was cast by Board member Marguerite LaMotte, whose district encompasses the embattled school.

“This is not right,” she said. “The school wasn’t as bad as we tried to pretend it was.”

No Board member responded to LaMotte’s tirade. However, Board member Steve Zimmer said he was abstaining from the vote “in deference to Ms. LaMotte.”

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Who Will Be the Next School Board President?

LAUSD watchers began speculating about who the next School Board President might be almost as soon as the results of the March 5th LAUSD primary election were known.

The issue gained further immediacy when the School Board voted 4-3 this Tuesday to limit the term of President to two years. Unless the Board votes to waive the new rule, which it can do at any time, LAUSD will have a new President in July.

The two main contenders appear to be Dr. Richard Vladovic, who came within a single vote of becoming Board President last year, and newly re-elected Board member Steve Zimmer, who voted to keep president Monica Garcia last year but  voted for term limits earlier this week.

Superintendent John Deasy appears not to be the least bit concerned who might be named the next President. But none of the likely contenders will be as staunch a supporter as Garcia was.  A Zimmer or Vladovic Presidency might mean a slower-moving agenda, and Deasy is a notoriously impatient man.

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LA School Report Expands Campaign Coverage

A new section of LA School Report launches today, devoted to the three hotly contested Los Angeles School Board races. Election 2013, features in-depth information about each of the ten candidates, including questionnaires, biographies, endorsements, and the latest news on campaign contributions and spending.

The enhanced coverage provides readers with easy access to information as the March 5 primary, for District 2, 4 and 6, draws near.

Board, UTLA Have Different Plans to Reform “Teacher Jails”

Board Member Tamar Galatzan

Both LAUSD Board Member Tamar Galatzan and UTLA President Warren Fletcher have plans to push for reform of the district’s teacher misconduct investigation process, but their plans have different focuses and end goals, according to a LA Daily News report.

Board Member Galatzan is focusing on how long the teacher investigation process can take (an average of four months), with plans to create a faster, more fair way for the district to examine allegations made against teachers. UTLA’s Warren Fletcher isn’t as concerned about how long the process takes; instead, he plans to push for more consistent treatment of teachers housed in the various “teacher jail” locations and to ensure that elderly teachers aren’t being targeted because of their age (which the district denies is happening).

Previous posts: Board PreviewUTLA Rails Against “Teacher Jails”, Report: Teacher Dismissals Costly, Lengthy

Turnout Could Reach 30 Percent, Says Consultant

Conventional wisdom is that voter turnout is always relatively low for local elections—especially so for school board races. And this is often true.  In off-year election cycles, when the only offices up for vote are City Council or Board seats, turnout can be as low as 11 percent.  Relatively small numbers of voters can sway an election one way or the other.

But the upcoming March 2013 race—when Los Angeles voters will elect a new Mayor, City Council majority, and three Board of Education members—is poised to be more like 2005, when Antonio Villaraigosa faced 11 challengers and total turnout for the city was 29 percent, according to numbers from the Los Angeles City Clerk’s office.

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Board President Garcia Talks Policy & Politics

During her LA School Report interview, LAUSD School Board President Monica Garcia points at wall charts showing district progress.

East LA native Monica Garcia only planned on working for LA Unified for three weeks.  That was way back in 2001, when former Board member Jose Huizar asked her to be his first chief of staff. But Garcia, now 44, ended up replacing her boss when he was elected to City Council.

The job of a Board member boils down to just four main things, according to Garcia:  “Hire and fire the superintendent, approve a budget, set policy, and serve as community voice. That’s the job.” Garcia is now finishing up her second term on the Board and is about to start campaigning for re-election. She’s also in the middle of her sixth year as Board president, an organizational task she executes with a loud and authoritative voice.

In her interview with LA School Report — the fourth Board member interview that we’ve conducted so far – Garcia discusses what it’s like to be in charge of such an independent and fractious group, the potential conflicts of interest that come from taking money from industries she monitors, and the possibility that the UTLA is going to spend $4 million to defeat her in March despite things like her support of the immediate restoration of furlough days following the passage of Proposition 30.

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Morning Read: Looming Vote On Teacher Evaluations

Teacher Vote on Whether to Use Student Test Scores in Performance Evaluations
Teachers in Los Angeles Unified will vote Jan. 14-18 on a tentative agreement that would allow the use of student test data in performance evaluations. LA Daily News

Calif. Teachers Fund Reviewing Firearm Holdings
The nation’s largest teachers’ pension fund announced Tuesday that it was reviewing its firearms holdings after determining that its investment in a gun maker was linked to one of the weapons used in last week’s Connecticut school massacre. AP

Jury awards $6.9 million to boy molested by L.A. Unified teacher
Now 14, the boy was a fifth-grader at Queen Anne Place Elementary School when then-teacher Forrest Stobbe molested him for several months. LA Times
See also: KPCC

11,200 Child-Care Slots in Los Angeles County Lost During Recession
Los Angeles County lost thousands of licensed child-care spaces during three recession-battered years, jeopardizing the ability of low-income parents to work and give their children an academic head start through early education services, data released Wednesday showed. LA Times

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Morning Read: Daily LAPD Visits for Schools

LAPD to Step up Presence at Elementary, Middle Schools
Chief Charlie Beck sets a goal of having uniformed officers visit campuses every day, saying this was the ‘new reality’ the department must address. LA Times
See also: KCET, KPCC, LAist

Districts Face Questions in Spending Long-Term Bonds for Short-Lived Technology
Last month, the Bond Oversight Committee for  Los Angeles Unified balked at endorsing Superintendent John Deasy’s plan to buy tablet computers with bonds intended primarily for building and renovating schools. In doing so, the Committee raised questions that other school districts also should be asking. EdSource

South Bay Lawmaker Proposes Penalties for Schools Without Emergency Plans
Prompted by last week’s horrific school shooting in Connecticut, a South Bay lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would impose penalties on California schools that fail to create or keep current an emergency response plan. Daily Breeze

Foshay Learning Center Basketball Team Gets New Uniforms, Shoes
Team sports usually require team uniforms. But for years, that hasn’t been the case for the basketball team at James A. Foshay Learning Center in South Los Angeles. Generous donations are outfitting the players to look more like a team. ABC LA

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Local 99, LAUSD’s “Other” Labor Union

The media tends to pay a lot of attention to UTLA, the powerful local union that represents classroom teachers. LA School Report is no different.

But there’s another union that arguably just as influential when it comes to LAUSD issues: SEIU Local 99, which represents non-certificated school employees (also called classified employees) such as teacher assistants, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and special education aides.

“The SEIU Local 99 gets everything they want all the time from the school board,” said one political consultant.

Sometimes, SEIU also stakes out positions that are different from those of UTLA. The most recent example is that SEIU has endorsed two candidates UTLA is backing — incumbent Steve Zimmer and newcomer Antonio Sanchez – but it has also endorsed Monica Garcia, UTLA’s main target in the upcoming election.

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Watch: Fierce Debate Over Grant Application Veto

In this video clip, LAUSD Board Members Tamar Galatzan and Steve Zimmer debate the risks the grant application veto could pose to school funding opportunities during the Tuesday, December 11 meeting:

Despite Galatzan’s—and Superintendent John Deasy’s—objections, Zimmer voted yes on the proposal, and the grant application veto passed with a 4-3 vote. (See: Controversial Grant Approval Measure Passes)