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He gets advice on managing an organization with a $6 billion budget and 65,000 employees from his executive coach, Kevin Sharer, the former chief executive of Amgen, the world’s largest biotech company.
However, there was nothing to prepare him for the case of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to accusations of feeding students cookies smeared with his semen in "tasting games."
Deasy’s removal of the school’s staff resulted in protests by parents and a raft of union grievances. The teachers, who were warehoused at another location, may now return to the classroom at Miramonte or another school, Deasy said.
Deasy also ordered principals to pull teacher misconduct files from the past 40 years. Those files are under reviewed by a special panel to determine if further action is warranted. Some 500 previously unreported cases have been forwarded so far to the state teacher licensing commission.
Teachers union President Warren Fletcher lambasted the move as a hasty and counterproductive effort to deflect attention from managerial failures.
Fiscal issues loom as the district’s greatest challenge. The district has lost $2.7 billion in state funding and laid off 12,000 employees over the past five years. For the upcoming school year, 4,300 employees lost their jobs, and the rest agreed to 10 furlough days, including five fewer school days, to close a $390 million shortfall.
"He got handed a pretty rough plate," said Charles Kerchner, education professor at Claremont Graduate University. "The whole district is sort of teetering financially."
Deasy has formed a foundation, The Los Angeles Fund for Public Education, to seek private donors.
"That a city this size and this wealthy does not invest more philanthropically in its public education, that, to me, has been pretty amazing," he said.
Deasy hadn’t planned to pursue an education career. The son of two Massachusetts teachers, he aimed to be a doctor but couldn’t afford medical school. He wanted to get married so he became a science teacher and found his calling.
He quickly ascended the career ladder, serving as superintendent at school districts in Rhode Island, California and Maryland before taking a job with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he worked on policy issues, including teacher evaluations.
He jumped at the chance to go to LAUSD, a district that is 73 percent Latino and 80 percent low income. One of his motivations is working to offer privileges afforded him, a white male, to others. Pictures of Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr. and a Barack Obama "Hope" poster decorate his office.
"This is where it matters," he said. "Delivering opportunities to kids."
On a recent visit to Esteban Torres High School in East Los Angeles, two seniors inform him they are the first in their families to graduate high school. Both said they plan to pursue criminal justice studies at community college.
A wide smile breaks out on Deasy’s face as he congratulates them heartily. "You see these men," he said later. "It’s what keeps you going."
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