Five Foul-Ups That Cost The LA School Superintendent’s Job

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Blake Neff Reporter
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The troubled tenure of a Los Angeles school administrator is over.

Superintendent John Deasy of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was replaced Monday by octogenarian former superintendent Ramon Cortines, who will serve in an interim capacity until a long-term successor is found.

While academic outcomes improved over the course of his tenure, Deasy ultimately lost the confidence of the city’s teachers and its school board after a succession of crises that, to many, emanated from failures in foresight and leadership. He announced his resignation Thursday and cut short a business trip to South Korea in order to negotiate the terms of his departure.

Here are the top five foul-ups that likely cost Deasy his job.

1. The Billion Dollar iPad Boondoggle Whatever his faults, Superintendent Deasy didn’t lack for vision, and his $1.3 billion plan to put an iPad into the hands of each one of the district’s 650,000 students was one of the most ambitious schemes in the country to bring schooling into the 21st century.

Deasy promoted the iPads-for-all initiative as a civil rights venture that would help close the gap in technical skills between wealthier students and those too poor to have a computer at home. Critics, however, questioned the decision to splurge so much money on tablet computers when LAUSD was running on a tight budget and many several schools in the district had crumbling facilities.

The experiment went awry from the beginning. While the iPads had special security filters designed to keep students on-task, students participating in a 2013 pilot program quickly found out how to evade these filters and began playing games and posting on Facebook while in class. After widespread abuses the district had to hastily reclaim many of the iPads just a few weeks into the program.

The final rollout of the iPads was first pushed into 2015, and then in August, less than a year after the experiment launched, Deasy suspended the contract altogether, saving the district money in the long run but also acknowledging the experiment had been a failure.

2. Corruption Probe The iPad fiasco was bad enough on its own, but became even worse last August, shortly before the contract was suspended. Reporters uncovered a trove of emails indicating that Deasy had been in direct contact with both Apple and Pearson, the company eventually hired to design educational software to be used with the devices, well before the bidding process for providing students with tablet computers had even begun. The communications raised the possibility that the bidding process for the tablet program was rigged from the start to favor Apple and Pearson in a beneath-the-surface sweetheart deal. Deasy defended himself by claiming the emails were about an unrelated technology pilot program at just a tiny school, but this claim backfired when additional emails were released showing the discussed project would involve training over 2,000 teachers, far more than would be needed for any minor project.

While the LAUSD school board said in a statement Thursday it has full confidence Deasy did nothing unethical, not all are so sure, and an investigation is ongoing.

3. Grenade Launchers The Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD), a special school police force operated under the LAUSD, raised eyebrows in September when it came out that the force had participated in a Pentagon program that supplied them with several assault rifles, an armored personnel carrier specially shielded against mines and two grenade launchers. While the district clarified that the equipment was for exceptional emergencies and there were no plans to employ them against students, an outcry from parents resulted in a quick sale of the grenade launchers. (RELATED: LA School Police Give Up Grenade Launchers)

4. Scheduling For Failure The most recent crisis to ail the LAUSD involves the city’s computerized scheduling system known as MiSIS. Despite warnings the system still had bugs to work out, the district began relying on the system this year and immediately ran into severe problems. Most notably, at Jefferson High School, a total breakdown of the system resulted in students being kept out of classes needed for graduation, forced into classes they had already passed or even assigned to empty periods that kept them idled in teacherless classrooms — or even sent them home early. (RELATED: LA Schools Rebuked For Scheduling Fiasco)

While the problem was immediately apparent, two months passed with school officials making no systemic effort to fix the problem. Ultimately, a lawsuit was needed to shake the district from its doldrums, with a state judge ordering the state Department of Education to take over the situation. Deasy supported the lawsuit, but his self-professed awareness of the problem led critics to ask why he hadn’t done more on his own to fix it, rather than waiting months for courts to intervene.

5. Miramonte Elementary Deasy’s personal blame for the largest molestation scandal in LAUSD’s history is quite limited, but that didn’t stop it from sparking demands for his resignation. The scandal broke in 2012 when teacher Mark Berndt was arrested on lewd conduct charges, accused among other things of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded children in a supposed “tasting game.” Shortly after, a second teacher was arrested as well for molesting students.

Deasy reacted by replacing the school’s entire staff from the principal on down, but major questions remained afterwards. Evidence emerged that at Miramonte and other schools the LAUSD had kept teachers in the classroom even after they knew there was significant evidence of sexual misconduct. While most of the LAUSD’s alleged failures occurred before Deasy’s tenure, not all of them did, and critics attacked Deasy for having to wait until the crisis exploded to promise systemic reforms in how the school district handled abuse cases.

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Blake Neff