A couple of days ago on a Souther California Public Radio station talk show, two longtime education reform allies, LAUSD superintendent John Deasy and former LAUSD board member Yolie Flores, got into their first public disagreement. There with UTLA head Warren Fletcher to discuss the proposed new UTLA / LAUSD agreement, Deasy and Flores disagreed over whether the proposed deal would gut the accountability and competition elements that were key to 2009 Flores' Public School Choice initiative, a two year-old program that gave low performing schools over to new groups including outside charter organizations.
Deasy, UTLA, E4E, Randi Weingarten, and others have lined up behind the deal. Charter organizations, some LA teachers, and reformers including Ben Austin and Mike McGalliard have criticized it sharply. (See previous post for news coverage and comments.) While Deasy says his deal retains PSC, Flores told me in an interview last night that the deal "completely undercuts" PSC. "It eradicates the entire intent and purpose of PSC which is to use choice and competition as a powerful lever." About the new role for teachers, and the three-year window that's given for improvement in the plan, Flores says "Autonomy’s great but without accountability you’re going to have a mess."
But the real issue may not be over what the proposed deal does or doesn't include, or whether it's ratified by the rank and file this month. (Anything said or done while a deal is out for a vote should be taken with a grain of salt, anyway.) The real news -- ignored or unnoticed by most of us living outside of LA -- may have been the departure of Flores from the LAUSD board and the failure to find and support a reform-minded candidate to replace her.
Flores says she had to leave for financial reasons and was talking to a handful of folks about replacing her. No clear candidate emerged, and in the end it was the chief of staff to the board president Luis Sanchez who ran -- and lost -- replaced by a union-friendly board member. And so, like many superintendents before him, Deasy was brought in and hired by one board but works for a different one.
The change in board membership may do more to explain the deal that Deasy is pushing than anything else.He doesn't have strong board support for a tough, long fight over extremely contentious issues. With LAUSD being broke, he doesn't have any money to leverage contract changes as in DC. He believes strongly in empowering local schools, and doesn't think he needs a contract change to implement student achievement-based teacher evaluations. And so he trades away the choice and competition parts of PSC that were so objectionable to UTLA -- all he has, really -- in order to get (or is it give?) the union local control and a moratorium on charter handoffs.
If this is anywhere near the full case, which it may or may not be, then the strongest criticism should probably be directed at the LA reform community, which for all its experience and heft apparently couldn't recruit or get elected a reform candidate to protect its efforts. As Denver and other places with elected boards have shown, reformers need to get in and do the dirty work of running candidates and getting out the vote. I don't care if it was Sanchez's "turn." I'm not even sure I care what the board president wanted. Now, as this deal seems to indicate, reform is paying the price. Los Angeles has gone from a place with a tremendous amount of energy and momentum to a place that seems dead in the water.