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John Deasy to stay on as L.A. Unified schools chief

L.A. schools chief John Deasy will continue to lead the nation’s second-largest school district through June 2016, the district’s legal counsel announced Tuesday, ending days of speculation about his future.

Deasy, 52, received a satisfactory evaluation from the L.A. Unified Board of Education during a nearly five-hour, closed-door meeting. Last week, he told some high-level district officials he would resign amid reports that he was frustrated by a new school board majority that challenged his policies and philosophy.

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In brief remarks, Deasy thanked the board for an “excellent and honest conversation on building the rapport to work together so that we can continue to lift youth out of poverty.”

L.A. School Board President Richard Vladovic said the board and Deasy are “moving forward” and would continue to be “focused on the children.”

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Deasy remains even after a district source said he presented Vladovic on Friday with a proposed settlement that included his resignation in February and a consulting contract worth $440,000.

Instead, L.A. Unified will retain stable leadership as it wrestles with major budget decisions, a shift to new academic standards and a $1-billion iPad project, among other challenges.

But the outcome drew contrasting reactions from those who see Deasy as a courageous crusader willing to take on special interests on behalf of students and critics who view him as an arrogant autocrat wedded to an education agenda pushed by well-heeled business interests.

“I am thrilled,” Elise Buik, president of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said of the board decision to extend Deasy’s contract. “I think [board members] heard from the community what is at stake. Maybe this is a new way forward.”

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In the last several days, community groups, activists, parents, teachers and union leaders — and even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — weighed in on the fate of the superintendent. Duncan said Monday he believed Deasy and the board should continue to work together.

“It’s obviously been a hard and stressful time for folks and more than a little bit of L.A. drama,” Duncan said.

The resolution was applauded by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who last week urged the school board to make every effort to keep Deasy on the job.

United Way, along with other groups, helped turn out about 200 Deasy supporters at a rally Tuesday morning. And a group of 19 civic and community leaders had sent a letter to the board calling for him to remain.

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But the favorable reviews were not universal.

“It is unbelievable that the Board of Education has given John Deasy a ‘satisfactory’ evaluation and rewarded him by extending his contract,” said United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher. “It’s a sad day when political maneuvering trumps the needs of students and schools.”

Fletcher, president of the 30,000-plus-member union, stopped short of calling for Deasy’s dismissal Tuesday but last week issued a statement that looked forward to a post-Deasy era. In April, 91% of 17,500 union members polled responded that they had “no confidence” in Deasy’s leadership.

The private board meeting was “a cathartic, throw-everything-out-on-the-table” discussion,” said a person with knowledge of the closed session who is not authorized to speak publicly.

Under terms of Deasy’s contract, a satisfactory evaluation automatically extends his tenure by one year. General counsel David Holmquist did not report a board vote on the evaluation.

In an hour of comments before the closed-door meeting, about a dozen students, teachers, parents and community activists urged the board to retain Deasy. Most said they supported him because his efforts were making a difference to students struggling with English and poverty.

Maria Brenes of InnerCity Struggle, an East L.A. community organization, said Deasy had continued the push to boost parent involvement and students’ access to college.

Maria Alcala, a parent at 24th Street Elementary thanked him, in Spanish, for showing up at a park in the rain to hear their concerns; Deasy supported their efforts this year to transform their low-performing campus with a hybrid district/charter school arrangement under the parent trigger law.

Fernando Mendez, 19, who will be graduating from Locke High School next spring, said Deasy represented equity for all students. But although Mendez will be attending college in the fall, his younger siblings have fallen below their grade levels in reading. He said it was disheartening to hear that adults were getting “distracted by politics instead of figuring out how to help students.”

Locke is run by Green Dot Public Schools, a charter group that had pledged to turn out supporters for Tuesday’s rally.

The day’s last speaker was brought forward by union leader Fletcher: Patrena Shankling, a substitute teacher who was fired on the spot by Deasy as she was teaching at Washington Preparatory High School.

Shankling told board members that Deasy had disrupted her class as he berated her day’s classroom activities during an unannounced visit in September 2011. Although she was following the regular teacher’s lesson plan — setting up composition notebooks — he “scolded” her in a “tirade” over wasting instructional time, she said.

Under Deasy, students have continued to progress, with higher test scores and graduation rates, fewer suspensions, better attendance and more Advanced Placement course enrollment. But they have not progressed as much as Deasy had anticipated in his own ambitious performance goals, which he has largely failed to meet in each of the last two years.

Although he appeared to retain the board’s majority support, Deasy’s frustration has been evident for months as his efforts have met growing resistance from board members and a confrontational teachers union. Some board members and the union have challenged his budget priorities, teacher evaluation system, classroom breakfast program and iPad project, among other things.

Support for his policies shifted as the political firmament changed over two elections for the seven-member board.

In 2011, retired teacher Bennett Kayser replaced close Deasy ally Yolie Flores; Kayser has evolved into Deasy’s most persistent critic.

And in July, teacher Monica Ratliff replaced Nury Martinez. Ratliff has stated that she’d like Deasy to stay on but has been more willing to question his actions and programs, including the plan to provide iPads to every student and teacher.

The departure of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also affected the power equation, even though the city’s mayor has no formal authority over the school system. Vladovic, a onetime Villaraigosa ally, became increasingly independent, and more sympathetic to the views of the teachers union, which has frequently opposed Deasy.

Deasy has been able to cobble a four-vote majority for most of his policies, but not always the same four. And three members—Vladovic, Kayser and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte — seemed ever willing to replace him should the timing prove apt and presuming they could secure a fourth vote.

Before his closed-door meeting with the board, Deasy said he was looking forward to a “good and robust opportunity for a performance appraisal and finding ways to work as a team.”

howard.blume@latimes.com

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com


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