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Education coalition wants to stay course in L.A. Unified

April 10, 2013|By Howard Blume
  • L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, right, appears with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a downtown news conference on school safety.
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, right, appears with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa… (Katie Falkenberg / For The…)

A coalition of groups, including the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, has launched an effort to put education at the center of the mayoral race and civic attention.

But they aren't calling for sweeping changes in the L.A. Unified School District. Instead, they said, the goal is to stay the course behind the leadership of L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy.

"We have a long way to go to in ensuring there is equity and access for all students, but there are some signs we're headed in the right direction” under Deasy's leadership, said Ryan Smith, director of education programs and policy for the United Way.

Other groups in the coalition include: Alliance for a Better Community, Community Coalition, Families in Schools, InnerCity Struggle and the L.A. Urban League.

The Thursday announcement of this civic alignment comes as the teachers union is tallying votes on whether its members have "confidence" in the leadership of Deasy.

"Time and again, Supt. Deasy makes decisions that shortchange students for the benefit of his private agenda," according to a statement on the United Teachers Los Angeles website.

The United Way group also includes two organizations that have recruited teachers in hopes of offering an ideological alternative to UTLA.

Deasy has pushed successfully for teacher evaluations that include the use of student standardized test scores. He also tried to limit seniority protections and speed up the dismissal process for teachers accused of serious misconduct or ineffectiveness in the classroom.

There has been increasing rhetoric about education in the runoff for mayor between Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti, who have clashed over which one is more attentive toward schools without specifically saying what sets them apart.

Each is seeking to succeed L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who chided the candidates this week for not focusing more on the L.A. Unified School District.

With Villaraigosa, "we had a mayor that absolutely kept his word and tried everything he could to improve education in this city," said Smith. "The mayor is right in saying that if you're going to run the second-largest city in the nation, you have to prioritize education."

Villaraigosa tried unsuccessfully to win direct control of L.A. Unified but achieved influence instead through raising funds for school board candidates who then won a board majority. He frequently clashed with the teachers union, a onetime political ally.

To buttress its point, the United Way group released results of a survey intended to demonstrate that education was a top concern of community organizations and leaders.

Those surveyed almost unanimously agreed that “focused strategies" are "critically important" to raise graduation and "college-going rates among African American and Latino students.”

For its part, the teachers' referendum also included a statement about education priorities, some of which overlap with those highlighted in the United Way-group survey.

For example, those surveyed said new funds for education should be used to reduce class size and restore funding for early childhood education. The proposed plan by teachers includes these tenets as well.

The civic support for Deasy is an echo of the recent school board campaign. Backers of a Villaraigosa-endorsed slate said their victory was vital for Deasy's job security. The March election results were mixed, but Deasy's employment seems secure for now.

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Twitter: @howardblume | email

howard.blume@latimes.com

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