Civic leaders mobilizing to support LA schools chief

October 28, 2013

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy

A University of California regent is gathering support from civic, business and philanthropic leaders to pressure the seven member Board of Education of the Los Angeles Unified School District to “make every effort” to retain the services of John Deasy, its embattled school superintendent.

George Kieffer, a prominent attorney in the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, is seeking signatures from well-known Los Angelenos for a letter to the board that he is circulating. The letter highlights the divisions that have opened up regarding Deasy’s shaky status and rumors of his possible departure.

The letter describes a “tremendous sense of disappointment, approaching anger that the Los Angeles community is feeling” as a result of the ongoing conflicts between Deasy and the board.

A number of other actions are being planned for this week on Deasy’s behalf, including press conferences and rallies before the Board of Education. The United Way of Greater Los Angeles is convening the coalition of community and civic groups it  helped organize last spring, Communities for Los Angeles Student Success, or CLASS, and will hold a telephone conference call of its members on Monday morning to plan its mobilization efforts.

UC Regent George Kieffer. Credit: UC Office of the President

The letter being circulated by Kieffer asserts that “the leadership of the business community and the non-profit community strongly supports Superintendent Deasy and we encourage the school board to meet with him immediately to work out a plan to continue his tenure as our Superintendent of Schools.”  It notes the multiple reforms currently under way in the district, and concludes by saying “it will be very difficult to make good decisions for our children if we do not have a strong and experienced leader in the superintendent’s office. ”

“Firing Superintendent Deasy, or making his life so miserable that he has no choice but to leave, is not in the best interests of the students of Los Angeles,” the letter states.

What seems clear is that the city’s power structure is likely to mostly back Deasy.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has already come out unequivocally in support of Deasy. “I think the adults at the school district, across the board, need to remember that there are kids who (will be) the collateral damage to any loss of leadership, any loss of momentum, and any dysfunction and fighting,” he said las week.

He indirectly criticized the board of micromanaging, saying, “a board is there to set policy, is there to guide the direction. But at the end of the day, they are not the ones who are supposed to run the district. That’s supposed to be the superintendent.”

One clear opponent has been the United Teachers Los Angeles – whose members approved a referendum expressing no confidence in Deasy, who succeeded Ramon Cortines in 2011 – and gave him failing grades last summer.

A Los Angeles Times article reported last Thursday that Deasy had proffered his resignation, but Deasy in a text message to EdSource on the same evening said “I have not resigned. Have not submitted letter of resignation.” But he has not publicly addressed reports that he has told some board members that he intends to resign, or is contemplating doing so.

Matters could come to a head on Tuesday, when he is scheduled to go through an performance evaluation in a closed session with the board.

The rapidly approaching evaluation may have prompted the letter being circulated by Kieffer. Kieffer was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown during his second term as governor in 1980 to serve on the Board of Governors for the California Community Colleges, where he eventually became chair. He was chair of the L.A. Charter Review Commission, which rewrote the city’s charter. He was twice elected chair of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. Even though the chamber opposed the recall of then Gov. Gray Davis, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – who ousted Davis in the recall election – appointed Kieffer to a 12-year term on UC Board of Regents in 2009.

Kieffer did not respond to an email from EdSource seeking a comment on the letter.

The following is the full text of the letter:

Dear Members of the Board of Education:

This letter is to inform you of the tremendous sense of disappointment, approaching anger, that the Los Angeles community is feeling today because of the inability of the School Board to develop a plan with Superintendent Deasy to move forward together for the benefit of the students of the Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”).

LAUSD has seen important gains across the board in student achievement over the last few years. Under LAUSD Superintendent Dr. John Deasy’s leadership, the District has improved student test scores and other student success indicators such as the number of students accessing college preparation courses. It has also seen decreases in student drop-out rates and truancy rates.

The District is embarking on a massive roll out of professional development and technology tools that will prepare teachers and students to implement the new, and highly more rigorous, state education Common Core standards and student assessments. Further tests to Dr. Deasy’s leadership will be presented as the District prepares to develop its Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), as part of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that was passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor earlier this year. The LCFF is a much needed step in the right direction to ensure that all California schools receive equitable funds from the state.

All of these and other important initiatives are crucial to ensure students are succeeding academically and graduating prepared for college and 21st century competitive careers.

We believe that John Deasy has the unique skills and commitment necessary to move the district forward on each of these topics. The leadership of the business community and the non-profit community strongly supports Superintendent Deasy and we encourage the School Board to meet with him immediately to work out a plan to continue his tenure as our Superintendent of Schools.

In the next few months, and for the first time in several years due to an increase in funding, the Board will make critical decisions about the budget and technology programs. It will be very difficult to make good decisions for our children if we do not have a strong and experienced leader in the Superintendent’s office.

Firing Superintendent Deasy, or making his life so miserable that he has no choice but to leave, is not in the best interests of the students of Los Angeles. We urge you to pull the board together and make every effort to retain one of the top Superintendents in the country.

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