“A former Montgomery County, Md., schools chief backed away, calling L.A. Unified ‘a total mess.’”
-Los Angeles Times
After the LAUSD spent 15 months without a Superintendent that did not have “interim” in his title, the School Board finally did their job and hired a replacement for John Deasy. The fact that Michelle King is career player for the District and also attended its schools means that she has the breadth of institutional knowledge that will help her hit the ground running. Hopefully, it also shows that she has loyalty to both the institution and the students that it serves. Reports that she began her career as a special education aid is reassuring to this parent of two daughters who require these services. The fact that she offered to step in for Deasy before he had been actually been pushed out the door also shows that she can have the hutzpah that the District needs. The shattering of the LAUSD’s glass ceiling is the crowning touch. Still, I cannot help but feel that her appointment could have been handled better.
For months the public has been told that the names of leading candidates had to be confidential because those applying needed to be assured that their current employers would not find out that they were considering jumping ship. This excuse always seemed hollow, especially with the Los Angeles Times reporting that “St. Louis schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams, Fremont, Calif., Superintendent Jim Morris, and San Francisco Superintendent Richard Carranza” (who just last February received a $65,000 raise) had been among the candidates considered. However, once it was clear that the finalist was from among the district’s own ranks, there was no reason for Monica Garcia, Ref Rodriguez, Steve Zimmer and George McKenna to continue their bid to keep King’s name from their constituents before taking a final vote. Before making her appointment official, the Board should have come out from behind closed doors to hold one last meeting that included public input. This not only would have given the stakeholders a chance to feel that they were invested in this choice, but it would have given the District the opportunity to clear up any reservations that were raised about the promotion.
King was David Binkle’s superior when the LAUSD Inspector General’s office found that the Food Service division that he ran was “at a minimum being mismanaged and at worst being consistently abused.” While the District seems satisfied that forcing Binkle into retirement resolved the problem, it has never explained what roll District higher ups, including King, played in this scandal. Even if Binkle is not correct when he says that his superiors approved, and sometimes directed his actions, the taxpayers are owed an explanation for why they did not realize that the department was being run so poorly.
The District has already admitted that there are at least two emails that “have been found for the month of January 2013 related to the phrases ‘Request for Travel’ and ‘LAUSD I’M IN’”, but they have refused to release them due to an “ongoing” investigation. It is possible that either of these could validate Binkle’s side of the story and prove that his higher ups knew what was happening in this department. Since the emails have not been released, it is not known if either of them includes King’s name, proving that she had knowledge of what was occurring. In December, this public document request was renewed, but despite the fact that they were already found for the first request, the District’s “anticipated date of production is March 7, 2016.” In the meantime, the District’s stonewalling keeps open the possibility of a potential skeleton in King’s closet.
The fact that King was chosen by a unanimous vote of a deeply divided Board also raises another possible red flag. While “the school board had wanted a unanimous decision to emphasize strong support for a new leader,” this could also mean that they expect her to maintain the passiveness she displayed under Deasy and Cortines. While the District needs an anti-Deasy who understands that the Board sets policy, a “yes” woman will be just as dangerous. It was very telling that at her first Board meeting, King suggested a change to a resolution and the Board immediately went on to voting on it without even debating her recommendation. It also leads me to question if she is expected to not take sides on important issues facing the district. An effective leader cannot punt by stating that she is “not for or against the plan” by Eli Broad to privatize half of the students.
The constant churn of Superintendents through the District has not benefitted the students and, hopefully, the elevation of King will bring some much-needed stability. A more open process would have provided a better start, but the stakeholders will have to learn to deal with the cards that we had been dealt. Let’s hope that by being placed in charge, King will shed the passivity that served her well during her assent and that she will become the voice for public education that we badly need after the Deasy fiasco.
“I strongly believe in the work and accomplishments Superintendent Deasy has led over these last three years. My offer is solely to continue to serve our students by fulfilling our vision of graduating every youth ready for college and career.”