Sun, Jul

LAUSD: A Revolving Door of Superintendents


JUST SAYIN’-So LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy resigned!  How much money did that cost the school system this time?  Almost to spite teachers, the Board of Education has consistently in recent years done end-runs around teacher/union input with regard to searching out and selecting this highly paid executive.  And look at the results.  We are constantly jumping from the frying pan into the fire! 

The Board, many of whom have no professional educational experience in the first place, often choose people who are similarly unprepared to assume the helm of the nation’s second largest school system.  

Over the last two decades, we have witnessed a revolving door of superintendents—people who have signed and re-signed long contracts that accrue for them extremely high (and often undeserved) salaries.  

Roy Romer (former governor of Colorado), David Brewer (Navy Vice-Admiral—speaking of steering the helm!), Ramon Cortines (formerly a Deputy Mayor for Villaraigosa and Assistant Superintendent to Brewer) appointed acting-Superintendent after the Board forced out the disastrous Brewer), and now we have John Deasy’s departure (though his contract had just been renewed by the Board—despite their being, even then, many questions about what was transpiring under his tenure). 

Perhaps predictably (based on its history of ill-advised decision-making), the Board in all its infinite “wisdom” named the aging Ramon Cortines (82) as the interim-Superintendent to replace Deasy as it searches for a new, more suitable, “permanent” candidate.  He is the same person who left his earlier post under questionable circumstances.  

Deasy, like Cortines, has been living under the pale of controversy:  There is the 1.3 billion dollar iPAD debacle along with the suggestions (currently under further study) that he was in cahoots with Apple, the company contracted to supply this technology for every student.  This is a program that has, from the outset, been plagued “by conflict of interest, possible manipulation of the procurement process, and ongoing implementation woes.”  Where was Deasy in all this? 

Deasy had a terrible relationship with teachers with his “autocratic, punitive leadership style that . . . demoralized teachers and other employees.”  Teachers had been unhappy, in part, because he supported an end to tenure (a policy initiated to eliminate arbitrary decision-making by administrators regarding teacher status).  In part, he exerted so much unwarranted pressure on them that many outstanding, innovative instructors have left our district altogether. 

Many Board members did not work well with Deasy either because he generally disregarded their input.  Technically, if you think of the LAUSD as a business, then the Superintendent should be taking direction from the Board—as any executive director would be expected to do.  However, he was so dismissive of the Board’s guidance (let alone input from the teachers, other school personnel unions, and the community) that he fashioned himself in the style of a dictator.  And as a result, Calamity John became his own self-made disaster.  Where had Deasy’s leadership been? 

School administrators often do think of LAUSD as an enterprise.  Of course, it is far more than that.  Yes, there are budgets to generate, payrolls to meet, programs to create and grounds to maintain, but, most of all, students to educate and guide.  Our young people, however, truly seem to be the last and least on the list of to-do’s.  It appears they are given the lowest priority over other, more “pragmatic” decisions such as building contracts and bloated administrative staffing.  

This attitude seems to apply especially to those students whose needs are the greatest—help for them and students as a whole are often shifted to the back burner and get the least attention.   Where had Deasy’s leadership been during his stewardship over these concerns?  In which direction will Cortines lead us this time? 

Deasy is also largely responsible for another nightmare that is still occurring at some of our schools (a prime example is Jefferson High school where I once taught).  Can you believe (with all the technology at our fingertips) that students, by the hundreds, have been sitting in auditoriums or gymnasiums, not having been assigned to classes?  High school students, in particular, are fearful they cannot meet their requirements in time for high school graduation and/or college entrance. 

Other students have been sent from one overcrowded classroom to another.  We need more space and more classrooms—without question.  If the overall District-wide student count is lower than it has been in recent years, that statistic does not remediate the very real problem that a myriad of students is facing now at the schools they attend.  

The prevailing and frustrating belief within our school communities is that students, their parents, and community simply don’t count.  Though their needs are so apparent, they are not being met.  At the same time, though, we are not hearing a similar lament from middle- and upper-class neighborhoods in our City.  I guess it all depends on the squeaky wheel, but that is a story for a different time.  Where was Deasy?  Where will Cortines be? 

The public is often led into believing that teachers are inadequate and at fault when students do poorly or drop out.  The truth is there is little or no awareness among the general public of the many other factors that are far more responsible for those outcomes.  When Deasy was lauded for positive results, it is really the instructors and individual schools that should have been given the credit for the positive outcomes.  The breadth of successes has occurred despite (not because of) Deasy and his questionable input.  Deasy, as the head of the monster, was guilty of myopia and gross mismanagement, principally in not recognizing the demanding and challenging issues and then utilizing his leadership to solve the problems for which he was hired. 

I have written about my grievances with how the frequently ballyhooed charter schools are administered.  It is no surprise that the large profits garnered from these programs is, in the main, driving many people and institutions in the pursuit of this parochial agenda while far too many of our students suffer grievously.  Naturally there are many parents and students who do laud the positive experiences obtained from the charter programs, but we are also beginning to learn from recent statistics that many of these charters are not performing any better (and often, sometimes worse) than our “regular” schools. 


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There are those who have convinced far too many parents and community leaders that charter schools are the way to go when, really, the efforts (of the moneyed interests behind them) are little more than a scheme to privatize schools and ultimately categorize our young people along socio-economic and educational lines—in order to perpetuate the institution of the haves and have-nots.  Despite genuine apprehensions, Deasy supported charter expansion.  Where will Cortines be on this critical issue? 

The alpha and omega of what we need is genuine, knowledgeable, committed leadership from the top, and a Board of Education whose members are less interested in their own re-elections than with cozying up with whoever the current mayor and “top educator” are.  

Before the next Superintendent is installed, let us have a meeting of the minds.  Let the experts have their input as well as all other stakeholders so that we do not have to repeat this “groundhog day” over and over again. 

Just sayin’.


(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written A Quick-and=Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition, Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)







Vol 12 Issue 87

Pub: Oct 28, 2014

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