Calling the Los Angeles Board of Education dysfunctional and warning that academic progress is at stake, a senior school district administrator confirmed Friday that he is resigning.
Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino said he would remain with the nation's second-largest school system through Dec. 31.
His departure removes the top manager for academic initiatives during a period of rapid and seminal change, including a new curriculum, a new program for students learning English, a mandate that all students meet college-preparation requirements and a program to distribute tablet computers to every student.
Aquino has been the right-hand man for L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, who called his departure a "terrible loss."
Aquino, 48, said that the current school board majority has begun to micromanage everyday functions and that the efforts of senior staff are being routinely greeted with mistrust.
At the same time, he added, the board has been unable to reach consensus on what it wants to do, leading to paralysis and diverging agendas that are beginning to take a toll.
"The current political climate does not allow me to lead an agenda that is in the best interests of the kids," Aquino said. "I don’t want to leave. I think we were doing major work in transforming students' lives, and I wanted to continue to be part of that journey."
This week's board meeting was a prime example, Aquino said. For the second time, board members failed to approve a spending plan for $113 million provided by the state to help the district prepare for new Common Core learning standards adopted by California and 45 other states.
Aquino said he spent weeks providing information to board members and making changes based on their input. But at the meeting, new questions arose and the board was unable to take action. The result is that crucial training for teachers will be delayed by months, even as the school system is switching to a new curriculum.
Aquino said his departure is not a result of two major past confrontations he had with new school board President Richard Vladovic. Those incidents were part of an internal investigation into whether Vladovic's treatment of district employees crossed legal or ethical boundaries. Vladovic, a retired senior district administrator, has served on the board since 2007.
The run-ins had resulted in Aquino threatening to resign, but Aquino said Vladovic has since treated him respectfully. The issue, he said, is the direction of the school system.
Vladovic did not return fire in kind Friday.
"Dr. Aquino served the students of LAUSD admirably for the past few years," Vladovic said in a statement. "He made a decision to leave the district and pursue other endeavors. I wholeheartedly thank him for his service to our students and district."
Vladovic has acknowledged having outbursts of temper but said they arise from his passion for helping students and that he respects the professional staff.
Deasy himself had threatened to resign when Vladovic became board president in July. The two have frequently been at odds outside of public view.
Vladovic asked him not to and has been at pains to treat all parties with deference since becoming board president.
Still, the perceived distrust for senior staff is read by many observers as discomfort with Deasy -- an assertive leader who differs philosophically on key issues with some board members. Aquino was resolutely loyal to Deasy.
Several members of Deasy's team were unhappy recently when the board refused Deasy's request to give them multiyear contracts. Aquino and others were offered one-year pacts.
Aquino joined the school system in July 2011. He had been a senior official in the New York City and Denver school systems.
Aquino's departure is another sign that a school board once controlled by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Deasy ally, has moved in another direction. Vladovic was, in fact, considered part of Villaraigosa's bloc for most of his time on the board.
Several outside organizations expressed concerns over Aquino's departure.
“Students can't afford to lose key advocates such as Dr. Aquino, who truly understand the urgency of meeting their needs," said Elise Buik, president of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which has strongly backed Deasy.
"Dr. Aquino has played a lead role in implementing policies that are especially vital to the success of students of color and low-income students," she said. "It's unfortunate to see the school district lose strong talent.”
The board majority is more aligned with the views of the teachers union and, to some degree, of the administrators union. Not surprisingly, United Teachers Los Angeles did not mourn the departure of Aquino, who served during a time when teachers were increasingly evaluated by student standardized-test scores.
Union President Warren Fletcher said L.A. Unified would benefit from new leadership that is less bureaucratic and less focused on testing.
Such testing, he said, should be "a tool to improve instruction, rather than the driver of every aspect of every child’s educational experience.”
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