Los Angeles teachers overwhelmingly expressed "no confidence" in L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy in the first vote of its kind in the nation's second-largest school system.
In the weeklong referendum that ended Wednesday, 91% of the participating teachers expressed disapproval of Deasy, with about 17,700 of the union's more than 32,000 members casting ballots, the teachers union announced Thursday.
The superintendent called the vote "nonsense" even before knowing its outcome, and a group of civic leaders rallied to Deasy's defense. But United Teachers Los Angeles said it would now press more assertively against Deasy initiatives that have made the city a crucible for education debates playing out nationwide.
"It's important to look at the data and impossible to ignore the results," union President Warren Fletcher said.
Deasy has angered some teachers by pushing for evaluations that include the use of student standardized test scores. He also has tried to limit job and seniority protections and to speed up the dismissal of teachers accused of serious misconduct or ineffectiveness in the classroom.
Still, a no confidence vote was not necessarily a foregone conclusion. The referendum came soon after union members overwhelmingly approved a new teacher evaluation agreement and after L.A. Unified School District restored unpaid furlough days. The confidence vote was placed before teachers by the union's House of Representatives, which contains many new delegates and younger teachers, who were presumed to be more supportive of Deasy.
The union lobbied heavily on its website for an anti-Deasy vote,, using doctored photos of Deasy in various unflattering guises.
"Time and again, Supt. Deasy makes decisions that shortchange students for the benefit of his private agenda," a statement on the UTLA website said.
"I don't have confidence in Supt Deasy. I really don't," said fifth-grade teacher Steve Seal, who serves on the union's board of directors.
In his 14 years of teaching, "I've just seen it go from an enjoyable occupation to a place where there is a lot of test prep and focus on exam scores. There is a certain degree of that which is necessary, but the process has been narrowing the curriculum," he said. "You can't spend the time on inquiry and critical-thinking skills."
Chris Records, a teacher at Marquez High School, sided with Deasy.
"I've been encouraged by some of the moves that he's made, specifically in supporting administrators and teachers," Records said. "I liked what he did with evaluations, how he worked with UTLA on the compromise evaluation system."
Anticipating the outcome, Deasy's defenders rallied Thursday with a letter to the L.A. Board of Education.
"Although we have a long journey ahead of us, we believe that LAUSD leadership is taking the appropriate and productive steps to achieve success for all of its students," the letter states, citing rising test scores and graduation rates and few student suspensions. "During his tenure Dr. Deasy has proven himself a more than capable leader."
Those signing the letter included James Cuno, head of the J. Paul Getty Trust; Antonia Hernandez, chief executive of the California Community Foundation; Monica Lozano, publisher of La Opinion; and Gary Toebben, president of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.
Deasy said little about the vote.
"I am way too busy focusing on supporting the rights of our youth to a world-class education to concentrate on such nonsense," Deasy said Thursday before results were released.
One side effect of the Deasy vote was to deflect attention from another question that went before teachers on the same ballot. It had been put there by teachers gathering signatures independently of the union leadership. That measure sharply criticized the leadership and laid out education and negotiating priorities for the union.
The resolution criticized "current UTLA practice" for "weakening and dividing us," asserting that "UTLA has neither mobilized, nor organized its own membership, nor has it reached out to build alliances with community forces in a meaningful and consistent way."
Fletcher decided to embrace this proposal — overlooking the implicit criticism of his union stewardship.
The ballot language spoke of "collaborating with parents, students, school communities and other educational allies and advocates" on a citywide campaign. It talked of minimizing the use of standardized tests, including for the purpose of evaluating teachers, and ending the practice of replacing the staff of low-performing schools. The listed priorities also included reduced class sizes, "full staffing" of schools and restored adult and early childhood programs.
This measure also passed, with 77% voting in favor.