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LA school board taking hard look at Superintendent Deasy's performance

Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy  speaks during a press conference at South Region High School #2 in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.
Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy speaks during a press conference at South Region High School #2 in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.
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Scrutiny of Los Angeles Unified's John Deasy is growing more intense as the school board prepares to evaluate the superintendent.

Members of the board are questioning Deasy's effectiveness and the direction he has set down in running the second largest school district in the country.

Discussions began Tuesday during a closed session board meeting and a final evaluation is scheduled for Oct. 21. But the date may prove meaningless if the board, Deasy or both sides decide sooner that his departure is in the best interest of the district.

Board member Steve Zimmer declined to comment about what happened during the closed session, but said it's routine for the board to call upon attorneys to evaluate all potential outcomes of the superintendent's review, including a possible departure.

"The board is doing everything it can and should do to maintain stability of the district. It's normal to have discussions of all options. There is nothing unusual," Zimmer said.

It's extremely rare for a board to fire a superintendent. More often, superintendents resign when faced with unresolvable opposition.

Last school year, Deasy told some board members he was considering resigning. His supporters rallied behind him, and he was retained.

This year, issues with the rollout of iPads to classrooms and a digital school attendance system have heightened criticism, particularly from the teachers union. Union leaders complain Deasy's management style is top-down and autocratic.

Deasy's supporters point to his successes.

The superintendent and the board expanded breakfast for students across the district and dropped punitive discipline policies, resulting in a dramatic decrease in student suspensions. 

"[Deasy] has been very focused on the achievement of kids. We've seen progress of the district and we don't want to go back," Elise Buik, CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, told KPCC this week.

Controversy surrounding Deasy reached a fever pitch in the last couple of months.

Deasy authorized the release of the new student data system, which failed to accurately schedule student classes, record attendance and track the needs of English Learners and special education students. 

The superintendent's technology team continues to work through bugs, and made improvements to the code and servers and increased technical support to schools. Still, issues persist.

Deasy is under investigation by the district's inspector general office for his involvement in a $500 million contract with Apple and publisher Pearson to provide all students an iPad loaded with learning software.

KPCC published emails showing Deasy's conversations with the companies' executives included details that resembled requirements used later in the contract bid.

Deasy maintains the bidding process was fair, and hired an attorney with experience in bid-rigging investigations to represent him. Through his attorney, Deasy requested emails from technology vendors and some board members, in effect questioning his bosses.

Less than three weeks after the emails became public, one of Deasy's top staff requested the school board purchased software programmed to automatically delete emails after a time. The board approved the purchase, but said it would revisit the district's email retention policy. 

Since he took the helm in 2011, Deasy's aim has been to improve student learning through controversial policies: expanding charter schools, tying teacher evaluations to test scores, removing teachers and administrators from troubled schools and opposing teacher tenure.

Deasy's political platform won him support of the self-described education reformers, who spent millions on L.A. Unified elections to build Deasy's alliances on the school board and even funded campaigns against current board members. 

Deasy's contract stipulates he can be evaluated on student attendance, graduation rates, and test scores. Since his arrival, the measures have improved.

The number of students attending 96 percent of the time jumped six percentage points, graduation is up four percentage points and 3rd grade reading proficiency is up one percentage point, according to L.A. Compact, a group of education stakeholders who have worked closely with Deasy.

The question facing the board is what portion of the improvement can be attributed to Deasy and what portion to others, including those classroom teachers asking for his resignation.

If Deasy departs, his senior deputy superintendent of school operations, Michelle King, has offered to serve in the interim.