Deasy’s refusal to compromise also pitted him against the union. “He has pushed too many autocratic programs without real consideration of the consequences for educators,” says United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl.
Caputo-Pearl cites the bungled $1 billion iPad program, an effort, at the start of the 2013 school year, to put a tablet in the hands of every student in the district. The rollout began amid confusion over whether students would be allowed to take the devices home and who’d be held responsible if they were lost or stolen. There was public outcry over the program’s billion-dollar price tag. Deasy ended the program after emails revealed he discussed a possible contract with Apple before bidding took place; he has denied any wrongdoing. Still, Caputo-Pearl refers to the situation as a “scandal.”
Deasy’s biggest offense, according to Caputo-Pearl, was offering teachers merely a 2 percent raise, even though they’ve taken close to 8 percent in cuts over the past seven years. “He’s stuck on a pay offer that feels hypocritical, considering that he gets a 19 percent raise over three years,” says Caputo-Pearl. “It shows his stubbornness.”
Caputo-Pearl has other complaints that he says show that Deasy didn’t understand teachers’ needs: the restructuring of struggling schools—an effort that disrupted school programs and forced educators to reapply for their jobs—and the introduction of defective software designed to track student attendance, grades, and schedules. The software glitch caused students to go without schedules, and possibly without transcripts, at a time when many were applying to college. “Many people who are very familiar with the [computer] program told him not to roll it out,” says Caputo-Pearl, “but he did anyway, and it resulted in widespread chaos.”
Yet Deasy didn’t get the job as schools chief on the condition that he would collaborate. According to David Menefee-Libey, politics professor at Pomona College, Deasy’s initial mandate was just the opposite.
Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa brought Deasy into the district with backing from billionaire Eli Broad, with the hope of growing the charter school system, confronting the teachers union, and changing the terms of teacher employment in Los Angeles. “To be fair to Deasy, that’s why he was hired,” says Menefee-Libey. “He tried to follow through on what he promised and what they hired him for.”
Deasy joined Los Angeles Unified as deputy superintendent in August 2010 and went on a mission to overhaul teacher evaluations, a subject he knew from his previous job at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He is a 2006 graduate of a superintendent-training program funded by Broad, who favors teacher evaluations based on test scores.
In April 2011, Deasy became Los Angeles’s superintendent by a unanimous vote of the school board with one member, Zimmer, abstaining because there was no nationwide search. Deasy led three school districts before Los Angeles Unified: Prince George’s County Maryland public schools from 2006 to 2008, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified school district in California from 2001 to 2006, and Coventry public schools in Rhode Island from 1996 to 2001.