It’s time again for our visit with the Big Man on Campus, a.k.a. Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy. Even if you’ve been following the headlines from a distance, it’s obvious that Deasy has a lot on his plate.
Last Wednesday, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) informed him that it believes the district posed a “potential risk to student safety” in its handling of the case of Mark Berndt, the former Miramonte Elementary School teacher charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct with children. A photolab employee reported Berndt after developing a roll of film that contained photos of blindfolded and gagged schoolchildren in the classroom. The LAUSD removed Berndt in February of 2011 but failed to notify the larger school community about the abuse – or the CCTC about Berndt’s change in status – until after the conclusion of the police investigation, months later. Two other LAUSD teachers have subsequently been released from their teaching duties due to charges of sexual misconduct; one, Martin Springer, is also from Miramonte Elementary. Earlier this month, the LAUSD shut down Miramonte and replaced all teachers until further notice, a move criticized by many parents as disruptive, but that Deasy viewed as necessary. “I cannot have one more student tell me he is afraid,” said Deasy. He said that the original teachers will eventually be returned to Miramonte; United Teachers Los Angeles president Warren Fletcher has raised concerns that this will not be the case.
Then, of course, there are continuing budget woes. Last month, Deasy announced a $543 million budget shortfall. Last Tuesday, the board decided to postpone the budget vote, leaving funding for adult- and early-education programs in limbo, along with possible teacher and staff layoffs. Deasy has made it clear that teachers should not expect pay raises or benefits. Towards the end of January, the superintendent also revealed that the LAUSD plans to reduce the number of local district education service centers from eight to four, a decision that drew fire from parents and students who feel the numbers of students served by each center are already too large and the support provided by LAUSD too small. Tenure is also a subject of contention; depending on who is speaking, tenure protection is necessary but weakening, or it keeps teachers in the system who should be let go. Also a point of concern: a number of LAUSD employees and administrators have been returning to work after retiring and thus receive both a pension and a salary. The practice is legal, but has raised ire in the cash-strapped district.
How do you think that the LAUSD has handled the situation at Miramonte Elementary School and the impending budget deficit? What do you think that the LAUSD has done well and what could it be doing differently? What questions do you have for the Big Man On Campus?
John Deasy, superintendent, Los Angeles United School District