Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Retired Veteran LAUSD Adminstrator Kleiner Booted the Day Before Arriving To Begin As Interim Principal at Locke High:

Only Politics Can Answer the Mystery

By Diana L. Chapman

As quickly as former Los Angeles School Board candidate, Neal Kleiner, was tapped to become interim principal at the contentious and controversial Locke High School, he was told he had been removed from the position before he had a chance to start today.

Kleiner said he arrived at the school Wednesday to check out the campus, and the superintendent of that district, Carol Truscott, apologized and commiserated with him, but added: "I was not wanted," Kleiner said.

Arriving one day sooner to stroll the Locke campus – a school under fire after the entire staff from the principal on down petitioned to leave the district and become a charter school – Kleiner wanted to talk with the staff to start paving the way for the LAUSD school the following year.
Kleiner was to temporarily fill the vacancy of Principal Frank Wells, who was escorted from the campus a week earlier apparently for allowing teachers to sign petitions during school hours.
But upon his arrival, Kleiner said he was greeted by the district’s superintendent of Region 8, Trescott, told him he was no longer wanted for the post.
“It hurt,” said Neal, a former Locke High School teacher and counselor, over a cup coffee at a local diner, the Omelette & Waffle Shop. He has lived in San Pedro for 27 years.” I really wanted to be there. I wanted to try to stabilize the school and fill teacher positions before the fall.
“I’m not a miracle worker. I just wanted to help the school moved forward.”
In an odd last minute decision, Kleiner, who was beaten by mayoral-backed candidate Richard Vladovic in this month’s race for the school board, said he was unsure why the ropes were pulled out from underneath him when he arrived at the school Wednesday.
However, Neal, 60, a district veteran whose career spanned nearly four decades with LAUSD who began campaigning vehemently against Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's attempts to takeover the school district, said he believed his opponent had nothing to do with it.

Instead, he believes the effort to remove him from the post was driven by the mayor. He believes possibly LAUSD Superitendent Richard Brewer the III received complaints from the mayor and then the edict to fire him was ordered.
The educational spokeswoman for the mayor's office had not returned calls for this story..

If so, School Board Member Mike Lansing, currently in charge of that district until he steps down in June, said he would be extremely angry. He added that he'd learn more today when meeting with the Superitendent this afternoon.
"I don't know what happened," Lansing said. "I just hope it's not intervention by the mayor or anyone else who would for personal reasons hurt an opportunity for our kids. I'd be most upset if the students were paying for adult issues."
Asking Kleiner whether Vladovic might have fought to have him booted after the recent race elections, Kleiner contended that both men were professionals and would put the past behind them. They both know, he said, that the district has much bigger issues to cope with.

“I just don’t think Vladovic would care," Kleiner siad. "I lost in the long run and we had a hard fight. But I felt good. And I wish Mr. Vladovic all the best. I took yesterday a lot harder than I did losing election.”
A top-level source says it’s his understanding, however, that the incident had nothing to do with the mayor but rather with Vladovic. The incoming board member called and complained there would be trouble if Kleiner was hired, according to the source.
Because school districts often hire retired administrators to fill in personnel gaps, it would be unusual for Vladovic to complain, especially since he himself is a career district administrator.

Reached late Friday afternoon, Vladovic said he knew nothing about Kleiner being removed from the post, that he hadn't even joined the board officially yet and had no reason to shake up attempts to hire Kleiner as the interim principal.
In fact, he said, he received an interim administrative position with the district after he retired. The night before he was slated to start, the district called and told him he was not needed. It was a position, he said, involving salaries.
"Let's just get settled down and focus on the kids," Vladovic said. "It's unfortunate that everything is so personal. It was an absolutely terrible campaign. Neal is a nice guy. I like his family. I like him. I'm so sorry this has occurred."

Others say there is no question politics played a key role in this last minute decision to remove Kleiner. The former candidate began to wonder openly if he would be continually punished for running for the school board “in a democratic society” and whether it would dampen his interest in helping schools–especially in LAUSD, where his roots lie.

He started with the district in the fifth grade and, except for his college years, spent his entire life either being educated or working as an educator in LAUSD. Now retired, Kleiner wanted to fill in as a teacher, substitute principal or in another administrative post.

The mayor had hobbled together a piece of state legislation and attempted to muscle it through to take control of LAUSD, but the district challenged him on legal grounds – and the courts’ agreed with the district.
Finally dropping his legal fight after the recent elections, Villaraigosa was able to forge ahead with a new angle by placing four of hi his proponents in seven of the school board seats, which introduces a new wedge about who will run the district – the school board or the mayor.
While Kleiner’s opponent, Vladovic, accepted more than $250,000 from the mayor, Neal said he refused to believe that Vladovic, also a career LAUSD administrator, had anything to do with the decision to bar him from the post.
The mayor, however, he believes did.
“I was just going to be there for a short time to stop the bleeding,” Neal explained. “I think the mayor took it as an affront since it was part of the battleground. All I was going to do was hold down the fort until the end of the year and they found a replacement. The moral was low. I had a history at this site. The thought was that people would feel better because I had a history.”
Kleiner began his educational career at Locke in 1968 and taught social studies there until 1982. At that point, he became a counselor and the school’s athletic coordinator. Later, he became an administrator at other LAUSD schools, including Dana Middle School and retiring as the principal last year from Muir Middle School.

Despite his loss, Kleiner said he believed both men battled evenly for the post, and each had a lot to offer. He was not nearly as devastated by the election loss as he was by the firing before he even got the chance to jump start Locke for the upcoming school year.

Whether the school should become a charter school, with the sometimes successful campuses run by Green Dot Charter Schools, is not his battle, Kleiner said.
He would not take positions for either Green Dot or LAUSD, because he believed both could do the job of taking one of the worst school’s in the district and bring it up the ladder.

Susan Cox, a spokeswoman for the district, said a last minute change was made in regards to Kleiner obtaining the post.
“A last minute decision was made regarding Mr. Kleiner’s services as the interim principal at Locke High School and unfortunately he learned about this decision upon his arrive at the school on Wednesday, but that they (school officials) appreciate his willingness to serve the school during this difficult time.”

Cox added because that it was a "personnel matter" she was not privy to who hired or fired Kleiner or what dynamics took place. The district would not discuss those issues, she said.

It was unclear who made this decision, but Neal said he understood that it came directly from LAUSD School Superintendent Richard Brewer Jr. the III. Truscott had officially hired him.
District officials have found themselves grappling with one battle after another from where to build new schools, to the direct challenge from the Locke staff, an extremely under performing school in South Los Angeles.
Wells was escorted off campus after publicly announcing his preference for Green Dot, who has paved some successes in running district school’s as a charter.