Pass / Fail | So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Before LAUSD travel ban, former superintendent flew 100k miles last year

File: Former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy took an average of three trips per month last year.
File: Former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy took an average of three trips per month last year.
Damian Dovarganes/AP

Former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy traveled more than 100,000 miles last school year, equivalent to circling the globe four times, according to a KPCC analysis of credit card records.

Before he stepped down, Deasy charged more than 30 business trips to his district-issued American Express card over the course of the 2013-2014 school year, traveling to New York and Washington, D.C., at least five times each. 

LAUSD's contract with Deasy, who remains on the payroll as an administrator until the end of the year, states the district is responsible for his expenses. But the Wasserman Foundation,  a private family foundation headed by Casey Wasserman, ultimately covers the tab, district officials confirmed. 

Deasy continued to travel on district business after he announced his resignation Oct. 16. His decision to step down followed a string of problems with the rollout of key technology projects and growing tension with school board members.

His successor, Ramon Cortines, issued a travel ban on Oct. 27,  the day after Deasy and more than 20 senior staff wrapped up at a Council of Great City Schools conference in Milwaukee. 

"Our top priority in this District is to ensure that we meet the needs of our students," Cortines wrote in a staff memo on the travel ban, making no mention of the Milwaukee trip. "There are critical issues that must be addressed now to guarantee student success. These challenges require the focus and attention of all school and office-based staff members."

Deasy declined to be interviewed for this story.

Michael Casserly, executive director for the Council of Great City Schools, said urban superintendents are often required to travel, be it to testify before legislatures or to share best practices with other leaders in the education field.

"Being the head of any organization is representing that organization to the outside world and advocating on its behalf," Casserly said. He said he travels about 40 percent of the month representing a coalition of the nation’s largest urban school districts.

"It's no different for school superintendents as it is for the head of GE," Casserly said.

Map: Deasy's travels

(Click on the above image to enlarge it. Map by KPCC's news clerk Daniella Segura.)

KPCC obtained two years' worth of Deasy's credit card expenses, beginning on June 30, 2012 and extending through the end of June 2014, the close of the district's fiscal year. 

The records show Deasy charged flights, hotel rooms, meals and ground transportation costs for visits to Aspen, Austin, Birmingham and Boston, among other locations. In all, Deasy logged more than 100,000 miles in the air, according to KPCC analysis of flight purchases.

To get a better idea of Deasy's monthly expenses, KPCC examined charges in August 2013, during which Deasy bought tickets to Washington, D.C., New York, Pittsburgh and Albuquerque.

His local restaurant bills reached $630 for the month with per meal prices ranging from $25 to $250 at Fleming's Steakhouse. Fleming's tasting menu starts at $45 per person. 

His expenses for the month neared $4,800, including $1,340 for a three-night stay at the W in D.C., which Travel Advisor lists as a luxury hotel.

The district was not immediately able to provide the purpose of each of Deasy's trips.

Cortines, in contrast, is not expected to be packing up as often. 

"Mr. Cortines does not have any trips scheduled, nor has he traveled since he took the [helm]," said district spokeswoman Monica Carazo in an email. 

It's not unusual for LAUSD and partner foundations to accept donations to stretch limited school budgets.

According to the most recent tax records available on GuideStar, which tracks nonprofits, the Wasserman Foundation donated $1 million to the district and $875,000 to the LAUSD Educational Foundation in 2012.

Credit card records show Wasserman Foundation's support bolstered Deasy's ability to travel around the country at a time when schools were still recovering from thousands of recession-era layoffs.

The foundation did not return requests for comment on its funding priorities.

The foundation's website states "we are committed to funding and partnering with education initiatives in Los Angeles that are focused on transforming our public schools." Tax records show the foundation made donations to many education reform nonprofits, including Teach for America ($500,000) and Parent Revolution ($250,000).

Unlike Deasy, Cortines is not closely aligned with self-described education reformers, who champion charter school expansion and tying teacher pay to test scores.

The district could not confirm if the Wasserman Foundation will also fund travel for Cortines. 

"If a trip does come up, it will depend on the type of travel requested or required," Carazo said in an email. 

Deasy was in a position to influence how foundation money was spent. He is listed as the president of the LAUSD Educational Foundation, a repository for financial gifts to the district, according to its most recent tax filing. 

The school board approves the district's operating budget, but does not oversee the LAUSD Educational Foundation's cash, according to financial records.

According to the latest filing on GuideStar, Melissa Infusino served as the LAUSD Educational Foundation's executive director. Infusino manages another nonprofit that Deasy established, the LA Fund, which solicits philanthropic support for Deasy's key initiatives, including the Breakfast in the Classroom program, as well as grants to teachers for supplies.

Infusino could not be reached for comment on the spending at either nonprofit.