Amid mounting tension between Los Angeles Unified's top administrators and the school board, Mayor Eric Garcetti expressed support Monday for Superintendent John Deasy and said he plans to meet with both sides in order to ensure the district's academic progress doesn't falter.
Garcetti was responding to questions about the future of the district, and its leaders, following the resignation Friday of Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino. The instructional chief said the new school board majority has become ineffectual and overly intrusive, creating an unhealthy political climate in which he could no longer work.
"I'm a strong supporter of John Deasy, and I think he's done a great job of moving this district forward ... whether it's bringing in new technology or whether it's having more accountability for the progress we've made on our (test) scores and on reducing dropouts," Garcetti said in an interview.
"I'm concerned that there will be a culture that will drown out innovation and that may ultimately leave the superintendent feeling like he can't do his job well."
To help ease tensions between the two sides, and help build a collaborative relationship between the city and Los Angeles Unified, Garcetti said he has scheduled the first in a series of meetings at City Hall where he hopes to get the parties talking.
"I'm certainly committed to making sure that I take an active role. I'll be doing regular meetings with the school board and the superintendent in my office to see how the city can help -- and I, as mayor, can help -- to solve whatever problems school board members perceive there to be and to continue reinforcing the opportunities Dr. Deasy has to move this district forward."
At the same time, the mayor said he wants to ensure that teachers are involved in making decisions and crafting strategies for boosting student success.
"Teachers all want to be at the table," said Garcetti, who had the backing of United Teachers Los Angeles when he ran for mayor.
"I want to be the voice that de-polarizes the debate. That can be from either side -- whether it's people who have shut teachers out of the discussion or whether it's folks who are convinced that any reformer is out to privatize schools. I've never found these caricatures to be very true. What I do want to have is greater teacher input and more teachers at the table."
The roles of the administration, the board and the teachers union will be in the spotlight on Tuesday, when the board makes its third attempt at approving a $113 million budget to implement a new English and math curriculum known as the Common Core.
It was the board's inability last week to pass the budget -- or to offer concrete direction on what changes it wanted made -- that prompted Aquino's decision to leave on Dec. 31.
After accepting Aquino's resignation, a dispirited Deasy declined to comment on his own future as superintendent. His $330,000-a-year contract allows him to quit, or the board to fire him, with 30 days' notice.
But in a weekend interview, he said he intends to continue pushing ahead with initiatives like those that have led to higher test scores and graduation rates.
"I was very clear on the first day of school -- I'm not going anywhere," Deasy said. "That's my decision. I don't have the final say, of course.
"But being frustrated and abandoning youth are two very different things."
Deasy echoed concerns voiced by Aquino, saying "the trajectory of our academic improvement is in peril" because the board major is no longer united behind a common strategy.
"It just seems like we're slowing down or possibly not moving at all," Deasy said. "One example, and something we're dealing with at the moment, is supporting teachers in the Common Core. We're not being authorized to do it and that's a problem since our teachers have been leading the state in Common Core."
Deasy said he hopes the board will approve the Common Core budget today, since any delay would push back teacher training by months. The new curriculum takes effect next fall.
Aquino's plan calls for spending nearly $25 million to create 122 teacher "coaches" who would help principals and other teachers develop lessons aligned to the Common Core. Several board members raised questions about logistics, while UTLA wants the money spent on professional development at school sites.
Vladovic did not return a call for comment, nor did board member Bennett Kayser, who questioned Aquino extensively during last week's meeting and reportedly emailed more questions that he wants answered today.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher said the current debate over the future of the district is the chance to shift instruction back to the school site.
"When you're talking about student achievement, you're talking about what happens at schools, in classrooms, when teachers and parents are working together to make that happen," he said. "Parents and voters want the school board and the district to do their first job first, which is keep schools operating well and fully staffed."
While Aquino's resignation has spotlighted fractures within the LAUSD hierarchy, former school board president Caprice Young said the current situation isn't all that surprising.
"The politics always shift when there's a new board -- even if it's just one person," said Young, who served on the board from 1999-2003 and recently opened her own educational consulting firm.
"And the district has been in crisis for a very long time -- that's not particularly new. One of the exciting things is the district gets to spend $113 million on instruction, and they're arguing about how to spend money instead of how to cut money."
Deasy himself said he hopes to be able to move beyond the politics and continue what he calls the district's "student-focused agenda."
"There's always a way forward -- kids are counting on us. We've got a set of policies and practices we've been following that have been getting results," he said.
"I just think we have to absolutely remain strong and focused for the students of L.A." ___