Thursday, March 31, 2011


By Diana L. Chapman

Watching an avalanche of layoffs from teachers to janitors, incoming Los Angeles Unified School District John Deasy woke up on a Saturday morning and flatly realized there was no way his moral compass could accept thousands of dollars in a pay increase.


The move to delete the $55,000 increase when Deasy assumes the superintendent post was gratefully accepted by struggling Los Angeles Unified School Board Members last week who recently sent out another round of pink slips to 7,000 teachers and other employees and expect an even greater influx to come.

Instead, Deasy opted to remain at his current $275,000 salary as deputy superintendent when he takes the reins of the nation’s second largest school district.  He will replace outgoing Superintendent Ramon Cortines on April 15.

“It’s just been on my mind,” Deasy, 50, said for why he decided to take the decrease. “I figured it was the right thing to do.” Budget cuts are “emotional and terrible,” and are tearing up the precarious fabric of district morale.

Said School Board Member Richard Vladovic: "Dr. Deasy along with the rest of the Board of Education understand that this is a very difficult time for the District and he made an admirable step toward alleviating some  of these horrific budget cuts."

Readying to take up his post, Deasy, in a quick phone interview before marching off to yet another budget meeting, warned that students’ education across the state is becoming an endangered species and that communities need to pull together and “take back Sacramento.”

The decrease was one of the first independent streaks I’d witnessed in the fast-talking Deasy and I applaud him for his decision not to take the money, especially as a massive tsunami of layoffs  leaves some former LAUSD employees nearly destitute and without health benefits.

Had he taken the increase, it would seem rather medieval when whole families are financially paralyzed.

Instead, the former deputy director for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recommends citizens start getting on the phone or writing their state representatives. Understand, he says, this is not an LAUSD problem but a state-wide disaster for education overall.

“Morale is fragile and low across the system,” Deasy explained of district employees.  “Kids’ education is really in peril. We’ve had budget cuts before, but nothing like this. We need to take back Sacramento.

“We don’t want new money. We want the pathetic level we had before.  Up and down the spine of the state, we are going to dismantle state public education. This is a willful act. We should be adding, not cutting anywhere. It’s in (Sacramento’s) hands now.”

State Governor Jerry Brown and the legislature were unable to reach an accord to put tax extensions on the June ballot this week, which some school officials believed would shore up some of the education's financial crises.

Some consider Deasy, who comes with a resume steeped in education, as an ally of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who attempted to take over the school district and has many allies on the school board.

But others see Deasy as man who will determine issues himself – and will show independent streaks. We will have to wait and see.

So far, I’m liking Deasy’s upfront attitude; He doesn’t appear to hold back what he truly thinks.

“We will do our best with the little resources we have,” Deasy explained, understanding that he was plunging into even darker times ahead for Los Angeles schools. “I will be overseeing a devastating reduction in force.”

 Deasy  held posts as superintendent of Prince George’s Public County Schools in Maryland and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District before coming to Los Angeles Unified.