While a doctoral student and superintendent in Santa Monica-Malibu, Deasy hired a research center run by Felner to conduct student, parent and teacher surveys for $375,000 over three years. Deasy said he recommended Felner for the job but insisted that district contract rules were followed.
The issue, said current and former Santa Monica-Malibu board members, shouldn't tarnish Deasy's overall record. Deasy poured resources into programs to benefit low-income and low-achieving minority students.
Deasy also pushed to open a charter school and link teacher evaluations in part to student test scores, said Shane McLoud, a former board member.
But Deasy backed down quietly and pursued other moves when he couldn't get a board majority to risk upsetting employee unions, said McLoud.
In Maryland, Deasy finally won union agreement over a trial plan that links student test scores to teacher evaluations, as one way for instructors to win salary bonuses. He predicted that common ground can be found in Los Angeles too.
After the noon announcement, the first person to shake Deasy's hand — and then hug him — was Villaraigosa, who is in a political war with the teachers union. He'd quietly pushed for Deasy's hire.
The incoming superintendent also bravely tried several minutes of Spanish; 74% of the school system's students are Latino.
Staggering challenges lie ahead, and Deasy said he'll need to move fast but not alone.
"The question becomes: Will I be confrontational or compelling?" he said. "I fall along the lines of compelling others to be bold with me."
Times staff writer Jason Song contributed to this report.