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LA Unified superintendent John Deasy resigns; Cortines named interim replacement

File: Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy speaks during a press conference at South Region High School #2 in Los Angeles on Feb. 6, 2012.
File: Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy speaks during a press conference at South Region High School #2 in Los Angeles on Feb. 6, 2012.
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Embattled superintendent John Deasy resigned Thursday from the Los Angeles Unified School District, ending his nearly four-year tenure as head of the nation’s second-largest school district. Former superintendent Ramon C. Cortines will replace him on an interim basis, the Los Angeles Board of Education announced. Colleagues and detractors have taken to Twitter to express their thoughts and concerns. What do you think of Deasy's resignation? Let us know in the comments below.

John Deasy's resignation letter | Social media response


Update 5:30 p.m. Deasy plans to continue working in education

While John Deasy has resigned from his position as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, he still plans to make an impact in education, according to Loyola Marymount University's Shane Martin.

Martin has partnered with Deasy over the years through the Loyola Marymount's School of Education, where Martin serves as dean.

"John is looking for opportunities that will allow him to continue what is truly his major agenda: advocating for youth, especially youth in poverty," Martin said. "And I think he has a number of opportunities in front of him, and we will find him continuing to be engaged and in a leadership position in a way that will make a difference."

Martin says that he has spoken with Deasy.

“He shared with me some of the things that he’s thinking about in terms of his own future," Martin said. “He’s definitively not finished with this work yet, John will just be leading it from a different vantage point."

The contract for the interim superintendent, Ramon Cortines, is scheduled to be voted on by L.A. Unified's board on Tuesday. He's set to receive a salary of $300,000 with no benefits.

Mary Plummer with KPCC staff

Update 1:40 p.m. Deasy banned from working for LA Unified again

The separation agreement between Superintendent John Deasy and L.A. Unified includes language banning Deasy from accepting work from the district or seeking work from the district, either as an employee or as an independent contractor, "in any capacity in the future" after Dec. 31.

The vote in support of  Deasy resigning was 6-1, with the only no vote coming from L.A. Unified board member Monica Ratliff. The board voted unanimously to appoint Ramon Cortines to serve as interim superintendent.

Deasy's severance package is $60,000, which is roughly equal to two months of his salary. That's double what's required in his contract. It  includes an agreement to pay Deasy for things including the cost of health benefits through June 30, 2015.

The agreement also includes language saying that neither Deasy nor L.A. Unified admit to any wrongdoing or violation of the law.

Read the full agreement below:

Deasy/L.A. Unified separation agreement

KPCC staff

11:32 a.m.: Decision to replace Deasy came in 'past month'

New details and reactions from city officials were pouring in Thursday after the Los Angeles Unified School District announced that Superintendent John Deasy would be stepping down, to be replaced in the interim by former district chief Ramon Cortines.

Board member Steve Zimmer said the school board came to the decision to replace Deasy over the past month, agreeing that he was too divisive a personality to implement the enormous policy shifts the school district is ushering in, including a switch to the common core curriculum standards, new digital standardized tests and a massive technology expansion.

"It involves a unique form of collaboration and we felt that — at this juncture — it was the best thing to kind of start again in the process of building those kinds of trusting relationships that can create the collaboration we need," Zimmer told KPCC.

Ever the moderate politician, Zimmer was also sure to praise Deasy's vision for the district and for launching those aggressive programs.

"Dr. Deasy has led us through that process and we’re very proud of that work and his role in that," he said.

Looking ahead, Zimmer said he was confident in Ramon Cortines's ability to lead the district as it seeks a permanent superintendent.

"With Cortines I'd never use the word 'interim,'" he told KPCC Thursday. "This will be the third time he has led the district. No one knows this district better. No one in the nation has more experience in running large urban school districts than Ray Cortines."

Mayor Eric Garcetti issued the following statement via email:

"I was in touch with John Deasy last night as I have been over the last month and I want to thank him for his service to the students of Los Angeles. Under his leadership, district graduation rates are up and achievement scores are higher, a legacy that he can be proud of bringing to the district.  I look forward to working closely with the Board and with Ray Cortines, a steady hand and experienced leader who can continue to focus the district on its critical work.  Our kids need education and opportunities that prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow, and I will continue working with the Board and the new Superintendent to continue the forward progress the district has made."

Earlier at the district headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, a swarm of news crews bordered the building’s southeast side. More than 10 news cameras were set up – many awaiting the news conference in front of a makeshift podium.

Longtime district watcher Scott Folsom, who is a member of the district’s bond oversight committee, was standing by as news of Deasy’s resignation came in over email. He said his phone hasn’t stopped ringing since news of the superintendent’s departure leaked last night.

“I think this is good for kids,” Folsom said, reflecting on Deasy’s tenure. "I don’t think that Dr. Deasy was a bad man, but I do think some bad things happened while he was superintendent.” 

Folsom pointed to the Apple-Pearson contract, a story KPCC broke earlier this year that revealed district officials, including Deasy, had been in talks with both companies a for year before they won the bidding process. Folsom said he wasn’t convinced wrongdoing didn’t take place and called for a further investigation at a higher level. 

“This is public money, the taxpayers money being spent,” he said. “We need to know the answers to that.” 

Folsom added that he sees today as a positive step for kids in the district — a long needed shift in tone. 

"I think Deasy’s superintendency has been marked by a lack of morale among all the district staff,” he said. "I do think that in the end, that kind of malaise, the kids sense it."

Cheryl Ortega, a substitute L.A. Unified teacher for four decades, told KPCC she's glad to see Deasy go.

"Teaching by it’s very nature is collaborative and John Deasy wasn’t a collaborator. He didn’t want to talk to anybody," she said. "He made unilateral decisions that very often weren’t in the best interest of teachers or students or parents and the community."

She said his tenure brought with it an "aura of fear."

"Teachers were afraid to utter the slightest criticism because they would lose their jobs," Ortega said.

She said Cortines is "more of a collaborator."

But supporters said Deasy wasn't as much of a lone wolf as some say.

"No one person can take all the blame or all the progress for what’s happened at the school district," said Alicia Lara, Vice President for community investment for United Way L.A. "We're grateful for the work that he’s done under his leadership — and under the leadership of our new interim superintendent — a lot of progress has been made and nobody can deny that."

Graduation rates are up, out-of-school suspension rates are down and the number of college-required courses increased, she said.

But she didn't dwell on his departure.

"What I’m optimistic about is the board will engage and should engage in a collaborative process that involves the community on the selection of the new superintendent," Lara said. 

— KPCC staff

Update 10:40 a.m.: Cortines to step in as interim superintendent

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Thursday named Ramon C. Cortines as interim superintendent minutes after it was announced John Deasy would step down.

Cortines has served Los Angeles Unified twice before. In 2012 he was at the center of sexual harassment allegations, but a settlement agreement fell apart and two lawsuits associated with the case were ultimately dismissed.

His tenure is set to begin Monday, Oct. 20, the district said in a statement Thursday, and he will continue to serve until a replacement can be found.

Update 10:21 a.m.: Deasy resigns 

Embattled superintendent John Deasy resigned Thursday from the Los Angeles Unified School District, ending his nearly four-year tenure as head of the nation’s second-largest school district.

The move follows months of controversy over Deasy’s administrative decisions and technology initiatives, including the district's iPad plan and recent problems with student scheduling.

In a statement, the district said:

While the District’s investigation into the Common Core Technology Project has not concluded, the Board wishes to state that at this time, it does not believe that the Superintendent engaged in any ethical violations or unlawful acts, and the Board anticipates that the Inspector General’s report will confirm this.  We further jointly desire a smooth transition in leadership. Towards that end, Dr. Deasy has agreed to remain on special assignment with the District until December 31, 2014.

Read Deasy's full resignation letter below:

John Deasy's resignation letter

Update 10:05 a.m.: Source: L.A. Unified superintendent Deasy to resign

Los Angeles Unified school district superintendent John Deasy is expected to announce his resignation Thursday, ending his nearly four-year tenure as head of the nation’s second-largest school district.

A source close to the discussions who was not authorized to speak for the school board confirmed Deasy's plans. He will receive a negotiated buyout and small compensation package. A contract setting his annual salary at $330,000 had been extended to 2016.

The move follows months of controversy over Deasy’s administrative decisions and technology initiatives. His aggressive management style strained relations with some members of the school board and moved the teachers union to call for his resignation.

Deasy joined the district in 2011, steering 800 schools through devastating recession-era budget cuts that resulted in thousands of layoffs.

During difficult years, Deasy worked to expand the free breakfast program to 300,000 students daily, pushed to change punitive discipline policies, and helped to cut the number of days students lost to suspension by nearly 75 percent. 

Deasy supporters, including charter school advocates and self-described education reformers, defended Deasy’s policies, saying they benefited the district’s 650,000 students. His supporters faulted the school board for stifling Deasy’s reform efforts.

But criticism of the superintendent had grown more intense in recent months.

His contacts with Apple and Pearson software executives prior to bidding began on a student tablets program raised questions. Emails published by KPCC show Deasy communicated about project specifications before the project went out for public bid. Deasy said the process was fair. 

A rocky rollout of the district’s digital student data system generated more scrutiny. The new system failed to schedule students for classes, record attendance and input grades, angering teachers.

Deasy sided with the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that contends students in l0w-income schools have lost class time and failed to receive a quality education because of district’s bungling. Deasy positioned himself against his own district, without approval from the board and further alienated some board members.

Board members then criticized Deasy for not being more forthcoming about the scheduling issues before the problems were brought before the court.

Last week, a judge ordered state and local officials to step in with immediate fixes to class scheduling problems at Jefferson High School. A plan for improvements was approved by the school board Tuesday at a cost of $1.1 million. The board also approved a $3.6 million request for more computers to help schools use the new data system.

School board member Tamar Galatzan, who had called for an investigation of the faulty software system, described the $3.6 million request as a "bailout."

Deasy has not been available for comment. A possible interim replacement for the superintendent has yet to be announced.

See the social media response

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the outcome of a sexual harassment lawsuit involving Ramon Cortines. The story has been updated accordingly. KPCC regrets the error.