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Business, civic leaders call on L.A. school board to retain John Deasy

Business, civic leaders call on L.A. school board to retain John Deasy
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy shakes hands with Manual Arts High School senior Laura Aguilar, 17. The school board is scheduled to meet behind closed doors Tuesday to plan Deasy's Oct. 21 job evaluation. His supporters are concerned that he won't remain in the job until then. (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times)

Local business and civic leaders are calling on the Los Angeles Board of Education to retain Supt. John Deasy, hoping to head off potential action by a board majority that is unhappy with him.

The school board is scheduled to meet behind closed doors Tuesday to plan Deasy's Oct. 21 job evaluation. But Deasy's supporters are concerned that he won't remain in the job until then.

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"We are united in urging the LAUSD Board of Education to put our children's interests first and retain Superintendent John Deasy," said the letter from the Civic Alliance, a group of key business and civic leaders. "Discharging Superintendent Deasy will have devastating implications to the education of our children, throwing the District into chaos with yet another transition at LAUSD."

That letter, sent to all seven school board members, is an unambiguous vote of confidence. It signifies that support for Deasy remains strong within the power base that has backed him since he became superintendent in April 2011.

Deasy has been under increasing pressure because of deteriorating relations with the board and problems with major technology projects, including a stalled effort to provide computers to all students.

The letter alludes to these issues, but then sets them aside: "Superintendent Deasy is not perfect. But progress made in boosting the education of our children under his leadership outweighs the business decisions by which he is being judged."

Those signing the letter include Elise Buik, chief executive of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles; Antonia Hernandez, chief executive of the California Community Foundation; and Gary Toebben, chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

L.A. school board President Richard Vladovic declined to comment on the specifics of the letter.

"Various interest groups and community groups send us letters all the time," Vladovic said. "I respect them and I review this input very carefully. I take them all seriously and I reflect on it."

Deasy declined to comment other than to note he had been asked not to attend the closed session.

"I am not invited," he said.

The letter credits Deasy with, among other things, "increased graduation and attendance rates, increases in the numbers of African American and Latino students taking Advanced Placement courses and exams, and reduced suspensions along with an overhaul of the school discipline policy."

Supporters have struggled about whether and how much to back Deasy after the recent disclosure of close ties between him and the vendors who won the contract to provide computers to every student. In August, Deasy decided to restart the bidding process, although about 109,000 iPads already have been distributed under the original deal with Apple, at a cost of about $61 million. The entire effort, including upgrading campus wireless networks, is expected to reach about $1.3 billion.

Another letter Monday came from leaders of eight local organizations. It stopped short of an outright endorsement for Deasy, although it suggested that the superintendent should remain at the helm. It praised the work of the board and Deasy, urging them to work through differences.

Those signing that letter included Buik; Nolan V. Rollins, chief executive of the L.A. Urban League; and Scott Washburn, interim executive director of Local 99 of Service Employees International Union, which represents most non-teaching L.A. Unified workers.

Both letters criticized the board's closed session about Deasy. Employee reviews, including Deasy's, are considered confidential personnel issues.

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"If this Board truly prioritizes children, it will hold Superintendent Deasy in place through an orderly process of transparent performance review. And better yet, conduct an open process to allow community members and stakeholders to have their voices heard," the Civic Alliance letter said.

The other letter made a similar argument.

"Real and honest change doesn't happen behind closed doors," the letter said.

"We call for an open forum to better understand the perspectives of board members on leadership priorities for LAUSD," the letter said. Evaluation parameters should be "widely published to all families and employees to foster public trust and transparency."

The teachers union reacted to the letters by giving Deasy poor marks.

"We think there are very deep and profound issues that John Deasy needs to be accountable for, that have damaged the quality of public education in Los Angeles and damaged the public trust," said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Under Deasy's contract, the annual review must take place before the end of October.

The impending evaluation marks the third time in 18 months that Deasy's departure has seemed possible. In June 2013, he threatened to leave if Richard Vladovic was selected by his colleagues as president of the Board of Education. Vladovic was chosen, and Deasy stayed.

Then, shortly before his evaluation last year, Deasy crafted the terms under which he would leave the job, which included a buyout of his contract.

Several community groups rallied hundreds of supporters at a board meeting, urging the board to retain Deasy. Civic leaders delivered a pro-Deasy letter at that time as well.

The school board eventually gave Deasy a favorable evaluation, by a 6-1 vote.

Deasy's contract runs through June 2016, but he can be let go with 30 days' notice.

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume

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