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Los Angeles: The Scandal-Plagued Legacy of John Deasy

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Zahira Torres and Howard Blume wrote a blockbuster assessment of John Deasy’s tumultuous tenure as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School
District. Being good reporters, they bent over backwards to tell this sordid tale without rendering judgment. But the facts they present are damning. They were largely gathered from Deasy’s travel and expense records, which the reporters obtained by a Freedom of Information request.

1. He had a heavy travel schedule, which took him away from the district for 200 days. His travels interfered with his responsibilities.

“At key moments of tumult in the district, the records show, Deasy was simply not in town….

“The beginning of the end came a year ago, just before the school year started. Deasy was in New York to discuss challenges threatening education reform.

“Back at home, the city’s public schools were in disarray. By the time Deasy returned for the first day of classes, a malfunctioning scheduling system had forced students into gyms and auditoriums to await assignments. Some of them ended up in the wrong courses, putting their path to graduation in jeopardy.

“Two months later, in October, a Superior Court judge ordered state education officials to meet with Deasy to fix the scheduling problems that he said deprived students of their right to an education. But Deasy flew to South Korea the next morning to visit schools and meet government officials. A week later, he resigned, under pressure, as head of the nation’s second-largest school system.”

2. He spent lavishly on travel and meals; foundations with their own agenda subsidized his expenses.

“Deasy, who was paid $350,000 a year as superintendent, took more than 100 trips, spent generously on meals as he lobbied state and national lawmakers and wooed unions, foundations and educational leaders, according to credit card receipts, calendars and emails obtained under the California Public Records Act.

“Deasy spent about $167,000 on airfare, hotels, meals and entertainment during his tenure; half paid by philanthropists and foundations, and the other half by the district. Private foundations often make contributions to school districts, and the LAUSD’s position is that those funds can be used for the superintendent’s expenses.

“Among the philanthropists who subsidized his expenses, according to district records, were entertainment executive Casey Wasserman and Eli Broad, both of whom support education causes through their foundations.

“Deasy attended conferences and held meetings in cities including Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. The tab for an evening with teachers union officers at Drago Centro in Los Angeles ran to more than $1,000. During a one-night stay at the Four Seasons hotel in New York, for which he spent $900, he met, among others, Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and president of the Emerson Collective, which awards grants and invests in education initiatives.”

3. Deasy was hired without a national search. “Influential philanthropists” and then-Mayor Villaraigosa selected Deasy. We may safely assume that Eli Broadwas one of those influential philanthropists.

4. Deasy’s pals in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and those “influential philanthropists” poured millions into school board elections to defeat Deasy critics and elect Deasy allies.

“Groups with ties to Silicon Valley and Wall Street have played growing roles in the education reform movement by donating to school board candidates. The Emerson Collective, along with Broad and others, put hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns for board members who supported Deasy’s goals.”

5. Despite his large salary, Deasy asked his powerful friends to pay for some of his expenses. Here is one example, that a tuay sounds humiliating to Deasy, who extends a begging bowl to Eli Broad.

“Some board members said they also worried that by requesting and accepting reimbursement for travel from Wasserman, Broad and others who supported his reform efforts, Deasy was creating the perception that he might give a special hearing to those donors.

“In an email, for example, Deasy sought a “scholarship” from Broad to attend a dinner in New York honoring two education leaders who shared his vision for turning around troubled school districts.

“Would Eli support my attendance at an event?” Deasy wrote in October 2011 to Gregory McGinity, a senior official with the Broad Foundation. “I do not have such means to buy the ticket myself…. Do you think he would ‘scholarship’ me?”

“The Broad Foundation reimbursed the district $1,400 for Deasy’s airfare and hotel. A board member of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank hosting the event, covered the superintendent’s $1,500 ticket for the dinner, according to the email.”

6. Deasy’s iPad fiasco was a disaster that is now being investigated by the FBI.

“Deasy’s signature effort to provide iPads to all students failed, and the cost of untangling the troubled student records system has now topped $200 million.”

7. Deasy had to go not only because of the iPad mess and the disaster with the district’s computer programming, but because he testified for the plaintiffs when LAUSD was sued in the Vergara case, instead of testifying for the district he led.

“Board President Steve Zimmer said Deasy’s confrontational approach reached a breaking point for him when the superintendent became a star witness for the plaintiffs in Vergara vs. California.

“That case, now on appeal, was heralded by national school reformers for making it easier to fire teachers and ending the current practice of layoffs based on seniority. It angered teachers who believed that they were under constant attack from the superintendent, who did not consult the board about the litigation.

“Once he chose to do what he did in the way that he did it, I knew I could no longer support his superintendency,” Zimmer said. “There was no reason he had to be on that stand.”

And where does Deasy work now? For Eli Broad, training school district leaders based on his own experience as a leader of the reform movement.

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