It seems that while Superintendent John Deasy gets famously mad, when crossed he gets pretty darned even as well.
Evidently there was an enormous rift in the political structure of the LAUSD board at their meeting of last Tuesday, 3/19/13. Signaled by the de-throning of long-time board chair Mónica García, Steve Zimmer’s surprising reelection early this month has realigned power behind-the-scenes. Reflective of this is the citing of a pilot school in his community with absolutely zero respect for the due process that governs these propositions.
Slated for approval as an agenda item ingeniously annealed to two non-controversial, exemplary projects each in separate districts, was a pilot school championed by Steve Barr, the provocative founder and former chairman of Green Dot Public Schools. His new venture, Future Is Now (FIN) Schools, shepherded a pilot school proposed for co-location on Venice High School’s campus (VHS), without ever informing a single stakeholder of this impending, irreparable change.
Apart from two individuals — the schools’ principal and UTLA chair — the entire VHS community of teachers, students, alumni, staff, at-large community members, families and administrators, was deliberately and systematically excluded from any awareness of, or involvement in, the planning of this pilot school.
Deasy, the Executive Director of his Division of “Intensive Support and Intervention”, and Boardmember Zimmer all acknowledge publically that “mistakes were made” in the process of notifying and involving the targeted co-location community (VHS).
Meanwhile, community members of select charter schools in wealthier, adjacent neighborhoods were introduced to the proposal months earlier. As dozens of parents are visibly present on campus morning and afternoon, the pilot’s claim that it was unclear how to communicate with parents there is simply not credible.
Beyond the absence of notification is a little matter of rules controlling pilot school lift-offs. According to UTLA president Warren Fletcher, these schools have a strict protocol involving UTLA teachers in an iterative, collaborative development process, followed by at least a year-long trial run before any attempt at launching is approved.
The process was exemplified last Tuesday by testimony detailing one of the pilot schools’ multi-year, harmonious, collaborative development process that yielded 92.5% buy-in from community stakeholders before ever any approval was sought.
This is a harsh contrast indeed with the rubber-stamped approval of an untested hypothetical pipedream forced by the Superintendent and the pilot school upon the VHS community, all in a manner akin to something of an “inverse Sophie’s Choice”: chose us or else you’ll get a charter.
Such blatant disregard of process and stakeholders’ rights was emboldened by anticipation of replacing this district’s incumbent school board member with Kate Anderson, a parent-lawyer whose campaign was funded by the self-same deep pocketed entities supporting the creators of this very pilot school proposal. Steve Barr’s FIN draws from the Ford Foundation, The Moriah Fund, New Schools Venture Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These entities are united by their effort to privatize public schools through “education entrepreneurs who are transforming public education”. Of passing note is the sycophantic synergy between language in the proposal for VHS’ proposed “entrepreneur-themed” pilot school, and the raison d’etre of its backers.
But Tuesday’s resurgence of an independent school board member rejoined the language of compromise and negotiation. Soon after upstaging John Deasy’s protective cabal of school board supporters, Steve Zimmer proposed an amendment to the pilot proposal that would be generally applicable to all pilot schools. It directed the Superintendent to make placement of the approved [pilot] contingent on approval of the school elected stakeholder governance council (SBM, ESBMM, SSC, Charter School Council, etc.). Community involvement must be guaranteed.
Now as events are unfolding rapidly, it transpires that this affirmation of unfairness about being held ignorant regarding matters vital to our community of thousands, was a short-lived victory of duration less than 24 hours. That is how long it has taken Dr Deasy to rally his on-site, hand-picked Reform-focused staff to manufacture an excuse to trash the spirit of this compromise.
At the end of the day on Wednesday, all VHS households received an automated call from the principal announcing an emergency meeting of its two governing councils called for the last day before spring break, Friday, March 22.
It is required that these bodies vote at that time on a matter they still know nothing about, on the relative merits of fracturing our venerable, beloved and diverse learning community in deference to a proposed pilot school, or instead in deference to some unknown charter school proposal.
This is being termed “Deasy’s Revenge” in various circles. It is a maneuver of breathtaking vindictiveness. It disenfranchises the very spirit of the compromise language dictated by his own employers and our representatives, the LAUSD school board.
True, the balance of power shifted with the reelection of Steve Zimmer. But the political jockeying has not unseated Deasy yet, revealed here though perhaps not for the first time, as a dangerous ideological manipulator.His operational rancor segregates everyone – teachers, students, parents, staff, inside their own fear and isolation. Such is the power unleashed by Tuesday’s seismic shift of political power among school board members.
Sometimes pushing a bully just a little bit is the most provocative move of all.
Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor.
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