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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Grade Fixing at John Dewey Still Under "Investigation" as Chancellor Carmen Farina Hides Behind a Security Guard

The John Dewey Grading Scandal continues, and Carmen Farina now has a security guard pushing people away so that she does not have to answer any questions. Cute!!

Betsy Combier, Editor

Graduation To Go On As Grade-Fixing Investigation Continues At John Dewey H.S.

Carmen Farina (left) hides from CBS Reporter Marcia Kramer (right)
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The wagons are being circled at the city’s Department of Education as an investigation into allegations of grade-fixing drags toward graduation day.

As CBS2’s Steve Langford reported, Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina is now being protected from questions by a security guard.
John Dewey High School has had a practice of giving credit for subjects where credit was not earned,” said Michael Klimetz.
Klimetz, an award-winning science teacher at the Brooklyn school, is speaking out about what he and other teachers call academic fraud.
“This was just a quick and easy method for them to keep these students on track, to get them credits by hell or high water,” Klimetz said.
City education department investigators began looking into what some call “Easy Pass” last year after teachers like Klimetz told school officials they couldn’t pass students who hadn’t completed courses that many teachers weren’t even trained to teach, Langford reported.
Klimetz, in an email dated January 2014, wrote to a school official “I’m sure you can appreciate the ugly reality that I am not empowered to grade these projects.”
“I was assigned a number of students seeking to remediate courses in a variety of subjects — history, mathematics, even English, and I’m only certified in science,” Klimetz said.
“I think they’ve been cheated out of an education,” said retiring social studies teacher Wade Goria.
Goria said education department investigators who he spoke with last year didn’t want to see all the evidence he said the staff offered.
“They took a very small number but refused to accept a very large pile of documents which very clearly outlined the fraud going on at John Dewey,” he said.
On Wednesday, an education department security guard pushed CBS2’s Marcia Kramer as she attempted to question Farina about the scandal.
“(Kramer: They’re graduating, nothing’s been done and there’s still…) There’s a long process and you’ll read the reports,” Farina said.
Farina has been questioned several times about the status of the investigation, but this may be the first time a security guard has been deployed to push reporters away.
Graduation at John Dewey High School starts at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

On East Ramapo, the UFT and AFT Disagree

AFT President Randi Weingarten

National, state teachers' unions split on East Ramapo

ALBANY—The state teachers’ union and its national sibling appear to be at odds over a proposal for state oversight in Rockland County’s troubled East Ramapo school district.
American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who previously led New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, reacted late Monday on Twitter to the State Education Department's release of a series of reports on the district’s failure to provide state-mandated academic support to students with limited English proficiency.
Weingarten tweeted: “1 more story on #EastRamapo -now on ELLs. I grew up in Rockland so it's personal-when is childrens’ deprivation enough to warrant a monitor.”
Weingarten was not immediately available to elaborate on her tweet.
State lawmakers who represent East Ramapo have pushed legislation that would empower a state-appointed monitor to veto decisions of the locally elected school board, which is controlled by Orthodox Jewish leaders who have been accused of shortchanging public school students in order to benefit those who attend private yeshivas. Members of the state Assembly’s Democratic majority pushed the bill through that chamber earlier this month, but it is stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The national union president seems to be willing to say what New York State United Teachers won’t.
As Capital reported Monday, NYSUT has remained neutral in the debate over the contentious legislation, despite that the district leadership has fired about 170 teachers in recent years.
East Ramapo district leaders have ordered deep cuts in staff and academic programs over the last five years, attracting scrutiny from the comptroller’s office as well as the education department. The school board and superintendent argue the district’s problems are due to underfunding, specifically a state aid formula that fails to account for the unique demographics of the district, where most students attend private schools.
When asked last week to explain NYSUT’s position, a spokesman simply reiterated that the union was neutral. But on Tuesday, following Capital’s article, the education department’s reports and Weingarten’s tweet, NYSUT posted a lengthy statement on its website stressing its support for funding increases in the district.
“NYSUT's record on issues of equity is unequivocal,” according to the statement. “NYSUT is proud to be a leading advocate for students in high-needs communities—dedicated to ensuring every child has effective teachers, small class sizes and the resources for a quality public education. We continue to press at the state level for the support and resources students in East Ramapo deserve including the $15.3 million owed by the state in foundation aid and for solutions that respect and build on the voices of parents and educators at the district level.
“Together, we must ensure every student in a high-needs district, our English Language Learners and students with disabilities receive the quality public education they deserve,” the statement continued. “We will continue to fight the underfunding of small cities, challenging the undemocratic tax cap that limits opportunity for students and pressing a legislative agenda focusing relentlessly on statewide solutions to the inequity that unfairly penalizes children in high-needs communities."
NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn linked to the statement in a tweet shortly after, commenting: “How about $15.3 million in owed aid? @nysut continues to press for resources, support for students in East Ramapo.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers are unsure whether they’ll have a deal before session ends. Now in overtime, the Legislature will return to the Capitol on Tuesday in hopes of reaching an agreement on other unresolved issues with broader impact, particularly rent regulations.
Senate Republican leaders have denounced the legislation giving a state monitor veto power over the district’s school board as “draconian.”
Senator David Carlucci, an Independent Democratic Conference member from Rockland County, has tried to bridge the gap between the chamber’s leaders and his colleagues in the Assembly.
Assembly members Ellen Jaffee and Kenneth Zebrowski said they were willing to establish a process where the monitor appeals a decision of the school board to the education department rather than give the monitor unilateral veto power.
But the Democrats want the monitor to have the power to appeal any decisions he or she believes would harm children in the district. The Senate wants the monitor to have less power, appealing only violations of state and federal law. For about a week, the two sides have been unable to find compromise on this specific aspect of the legislation.
“There’s no new progress,” Zebrowski told Capital on Monday.
“We believe the commissioner of education and other agencies can already enforce violations of law,” he said. We believe the monitor needs a broader enforcement power. … But the Senate has refused to move at all on that salient issue. I even think, in discussions, they take steps backwards.”
A spokesman for the Senate G.O.P. did not return a request for comment.
Carlucci pressed Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has said he is actively seeking legislators’ support for state oversight in East Ramapo, to get more involved in negotiations.
“We are close to having a deal,” Carlucci said. “There are some hang ups, but that’s where with the governor’s leadership, working with the Senate and the Assembly, we can get something done. He knows if we don’t do something, it’s going to get worse and worse and worse.”
Darren Dopp, a spokesman for the district, said, "We have not seen the reports in question, but we are eager to review them. We have a growing ELL population in the district and we want to do right by these deserving students. We welcome the input from SED."
Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rafe Esquith v Los Angeles Unified School District: The War Begins

Rafe Esquith
Esquith Case Gets Curiouser

Teacher and author Rafe Esquith was removed from his fifth-grade classroom in April amid allegations of “misconduct.” The first reports were that it had something to do with him reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to his class. But this controversy had little to do with the book at all.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, “Esquith acknowledged Monday that he quipped with students that if he could not raise enough money for the annual Shakespearean play they would all have to perform their parts naked like the king in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

That’s where it gets weird.

* The word “naked” apparently set off alarms in another teacher, who reported the incident to the principal. According to Esquith, the principal wasn’t too concerned about it, but it did get kicked upstairs by someone.

* Based on the information released so far, it doesn’t look like Esquith went to the union for representation, but instead hired high-powered attorney Mark Geragos.

* Geragos claims Esquith has already been cleared by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which means someone reported it to the state level. Also, if true, the CCTC acted remarkably fast.

* Los Angeles schools superintendent Ramon Cortines said the case involves “serious issues that go beyond the initial investigation.”

Esquith said “district investigators never explained the allegation of misconduct lodged against him but said they were not short of questions when he was interviewed. They asked, for example, the names of teachers who may not like him, the women he dated in college and whether he was counseled as a teenager for pushing someone at summer camp. “I asked them, ‘Have you talked to my students?’ and they absolutely said to me, ‘We’re only looking to talk to people who don’t like you,'” Esquith said. “It just seemed incredibly unfair.”

* Esquith and Geragos intend to file a class action suit on behalf of Los Angeles teachers who have received similar treatment and have been placed on administrative leave. What’s strange about that is they did it with no coordination with the teachers’ union, which negotiated the current disciplinary procedure and has yet to even file a grievance or make any other formal motion on Esquith’s behalf.

There has been no report so far of a parent or a student coming forward to make a complaint against Esquith, on this or any other issue. I wouldn’t expect the teacher who started this ball rolling to identify himself or herself, but however this turns out, there needs to be an investigation into the investigation.


Rafe Esquith, Teacher Now Re-assigned in Los Angeles, Moves a Nation To Ask, "What Are We Doing To Our Teachers"?

The Los Angeles Unified School District has made a very serious error.

Someone without thinking, or a group who thought that they would be invincible, removed an excellent teacher (who is nationally known and looks like a movie star) from his classroom in order to tarnish his popularity and his career.

Rafe Esquith

Yes, it is Rafe Esquith I am talking about. His re-assignment has finally caught the national public eye and moved a nation to say "what are we doing to our teachers??" just in time to oppose the end of tenure rights.

We need to keep the Rafe Esquiths in our classrooms, and we do that by fighting the administrators of False Claims, the Star Chambers of education in America.

A class action lawsuit is the way to go.

Betsy Combier

Teacher files claim against L.A. Unified, blames controversy
on joke

by Zahira Torres, LA Times

From his modest classroom at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in Koreatown, Rafe Esquith became an education superstar. His teaching techniques brought him worldwide recognition, and his books became models for how to engage young students.

But for the last two months of school, Esquith was sidelined. The Los Angeles Unified School District launched an investigation in March into allegations of misconduct by the popular teacher.

His attorneys said the investigation is related to comments about nudity that he made to students. In addition, they said L.A. Unified also is looking into Esquith's nonprofit, the Hobart Shakespeareans, a drama group for students.

The decision to put him on leave — and keep him there for so long — has outraged supporters. But district officials have not backed down, saying that regardless of his celebrity, they won't send him back to school until their investigation is completed.

The standoff comes as the school district struggles to recover after a series of scandals involving teachers and administrators accused of sexual misconduct with students. L.A. Unified last year paid a record $139 million to the victims of a Miramonte Elementary School teacher who was allowed to stay in the classroom even after complaints about his behavior with students.

Some see the Esquith case as part of the district's effort to reform in the wake of the scandals. But whether it is an overcorrection remains a matter of much debate.

In his first interview since he was pulled from his fifth-grade class, Esquith told The Times on Monday that controversy stemmed from a joke he made in the classroom.

He said he quipped with students that if he could not raise enough money for the annual Shakespearean play, they would all have to perform their parts naked like the king in Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

After another teacher complained, he said he explained the context of the joke to his principal at Hobart Boulevard Elementary. The principal, he said, told him he had nothing to worry about. Nonetheless, Esquith was removed from the classroom in April.

"We overreact to everything. That's the American way and I'm a victim of that overreaction," Esquith said. "I want to fix this system. I want to make sure that teachers do not have to go through the same thing that I went through."

Mark Geragos, an attorney for Esquith, filed a claim Monday against L.A. Unified, a precursor to a lawsuit. The claim gave notice of class-action litigation involving scores of teachers in similar situations who say they have been denied due process rights.

Leaders of the teachers union said the number of instructors pulled from classrooms after allegations of misconduct increased after a child abuse scandal at Miramonte.

  • @Ann C. honest and transparent process... How about the entire "situation" having ended when he explained the joke to the principal? A simple "no more nudity jokes", and we ALL move on in life.

Since last June, 89 teachers and others have been taken out of the classroom pending an investigation.

Colleen Schwab, a vice president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said district officials have become so concerned with making sure that they do not miss serious crimes against children that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction.

Schwab said L.A. Unified and the teachers union reached an agreement in April requiring that the district present teachers accused of misconduct with the allegations against them and that they receive speedy investigations.

District officials declined to provide details of the investigation, which Supt. Ramon Cortines said includes "serious issues that go beyond the initial investigation."

Cortines said in a statement last week that the district won't be "rushed to make a decision and will complete our investigation with the highest level of integrity. The safety and security of every district student will remain our No. 1 priority."

In an interview Monday, L.A. Unified General Counsel David Holmquist added that the school system will not sacrifice students' safety or a thorough investigation simply because the public and employees want a quick resolution.

"When it comes to student safety, we're going to choose students over adults every time," Holmquist said.

Education historian Diane Ravitch who has followed the debate over Esquith's removal, said that when such a nationally known instructor is removed from the classroom, the community expects answers.

"If the facts of the case are what's in public, it sounds absurd," said Ravitch, a research education professor at New York University. "If there are other things that haven't been revealed, then the district should reveal them so that people don't think they're making a very harsh and hasty decision."

Esquith, who has written three books, including "Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56," has received national recognition for his teaching abilities. He was the focus of a PBS documentary and won the National Medal of Arts award in 2003. At Hobart, which enrolls mostly low-income and minority students, he stresses the importance of the arts and the classics, including Shakespeare and Twain.

He has also criticized what he considers to be too much standardized testing and scripted teaching methods.

Esquith is being paid while he awaits the results of the district's investigation. It is expected to be completed before school starts in August.

He said district investigators never explained the allegation of misconduct lodged against him but said they were not short of questions when he was interviewed. They asked, for example, the names of teachers who may not like him, the women he dated in college and whether he was counseled as a teenager for pushing someone at summer camp.

"I asked them, 'Have you talked to my students?' and they absolutely said to me, 'We're only looking to talk to people who don't like you,' " Esquith said. "It just seemed incredibly unfair."

In the claim against the district, Esquith's attorneys said the investigation has now turned to the Hobart Shakespeareans, which performs a Shakespeare play annually, offers field trips and provides free SAT preparation.

Board members for Esquith's nonprofit sought legal counsel after investigators began asking questions about permission slips, whether the organization clearly indicated that it was not affiliated with the district and the number of chaperons taken on trips.

District officials this month required Esquith to cancel a trip with students to attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In a letter to him, officials said the trip had not been authorized or sponsored by L.A. Unified.

"It's clear that the initial allegation was this Mark Twain passage … they realized that they hit a dry hole on that and now they are doing anything and everything to come up with something to justify this because they realize that they have egg on their face," Geragos said.

After more than three decades teaching, Esquith said, he simply wants to get back to the classroom to be with his students.

"I have had many friends say, 'You know what Rafe: Enough is enough. Get off the cross, go into the private sector and make a lot of money,'" Esquith said. "It's tempting, but you haven't seen the damage done to my classroom. You haven't seen the mail that I've gotten from these kids. I have to go back to heal them."
Twitter: @zahiratorres

and then there is this from LA School Report:

Investigation into acclaimed teacher includes sexual abuse allegations


Jay Mathews: The Outrageous Re-Assignment of Rafe Esquith, The Best Classroom Teacher in the Country

Jay Mathews shows the process of re-assigning teachers after what the administrators say is "misconduct" really is nothing more than an effort to get a senior teacher off the budget.

Let's not forget that the LA School District settled a sexual harassment claim against Ramon Cortines to the tune of $500,000 in 2012, and Cortines himself got back his job. It's called finding "Just Cause" in my book.

Betsy Combier, Editor
In this file photo, Rafe Esquith, a 5th grade teacher in Los Angeles, listens as a student 
reads Shakespeare during an afterschool group
The outrageous treatment of one of the nation’s most outstanding teachers
I consider Rafe Esquith of the Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in Los Angeles to be the best classroom teacher in the country. So when I learned that he has been barred from teaching since March for telling a joke about nudity in Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” I wondered if the education world had finally, inalterably, gone crazy.
I have written many columns about Esquith. There are several chapters about him in my book “Work Hard. Be Nice.” He teaches fifth graders from mostly Hispanic and Korean families in a low-income part of the city. No where else have I seen such depth or imagination in a public school classroom.
Rafe Esquith is seen in this file photo with his 5th grade class. He has been barred from 
teaching while school district officials investigate claims of misconduct. (Jonathan Alcorn/For 
The Washington Post)
Every year his students produce and perform a Shakespeare play. His students love him. Their parents love him. Teachers from around the country visit Room 56 to see him and his kids in action. He has won many awards. He has published four very good books, and he is a superstar in China, where teaching is taken much more seriously than it is here.
Yet the Los Angeles Unified School District is still investigating him for what they apparently consider possibly inappropriate words in his classroom, even though the accusations have already been found without merit by the California Commission on Teacher Credentials. His attorney says he is just one of hundreds of teachers who have been send off to a district administrative office, known widely as the teacher jail, without any formal charges to wait for results of investigations that often have no merit and are hard to understand.
Ramon Cortines
Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines declined to address details about the case, but in a statement released Friday afternoon, he indicated that the school district is exploring “serious issues.”
“This is a very complex issue,” Cortines said. “While I respect that this teacher is extremely popular – and has been for some time – in the briefings that have been given to me, there are serious issues that go beyond the initial investigation. The Los Angeles Unified School District will not be rushed to make a decision and will complete our investigation with the highest level of integrity. The safety and security of every District student will remain our number one priority.”
Ramon Cortines
I have known Cortines for 30 years and consider him a good guy. But it would have been nice if his lawyers had shared with Esquith what those serious issues are, since they have had the case for three months.
Esquith told me in March there was trouble. Like many other fans of the annual Hobart Shakespeareans dramatic production, I received a notice then that this year’s performance had been canceled. When I e-mailed him, he told me it was a serious situation and he could not tell me more. He asked me to hold off writing anything until he could speak freely.
The Los Angeles Times published an account this week of his removal from class, which followed a television report on KCBS. I have spoken to Ben Meiselas, an attorney from Mark Geragos’ firm who is representing Esquith. Meisalas has given medetails not in the Los Angeles Times account, including that the incident started with a joke and that the teacher who reported it to the school’s principal now wants Esquith back in the classroom.
According to Meiselas, Esquith was rehearsing with his students for this year’s play and reading from a section of Huckleberry Finn about the duke and the king, merry actors who provide some of the book’s comedy. The Room 56 students were practicing Shakespeare, not Twain, but Esquith thought the passage was relevant. In one performance, Esquith read: “The king came prancing out on all fours, naked. He was painted in rings and stripes all over in all sorts of colors and looked as splendid as a rainbow.”
Meiselas said Esquith quipped that if he couldn’t raise enough support for the annual play, he guessed the class would have to similarly perform naked.
Esquith was joking. He does that a lot, as anyone who knows him has long been aware of. The school district has provided no significant funds for the annual play and Esquith’s many field trips and other projects, but his work has attracted many wealthy and influential supporters, so he was not expressing a real worry. The Shakespearean plays are very low-budget, since they are done in his small classroom with the audience on risers and the many musical instruments mostly donated.
But a teacher who was in the room took him seriously, reported this to the principal and the principal reported it to the district. From there on, Meiselas said, the district has been conducting an open-ended investigation with no apparent charges and no due process for Esquith. No child has complained. No parent has complained. The teacher who made the first report e-mailed him in April to say “I just want you to know that I am here for you . . . and I wish you the best resolution possible!”
Esquith’s lawyers have told the district to publicly apologize and let him return to work or be sued. Meiselas said district officials pulled some of Esquith’s students out of class and questioned them intensely about what Esquith had said and anything he might have done to them, without first seeking the permission of their parents. Meiselas said the students were extremely upset, as were the parents.
Esquith was sent to the teacher’s jail for two months, and then allowed to await the end of the investigation at home, with pay. The district has indicated there may be no conclusion to its process until August, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The questions being asked and the letters Esquith has received indicate the district is now intent on killing off some of the programs and trips that make his class so good. A district official wrote to tell him his students’ annual summer trip to Oregon for the Shakespearean Theatrical Festival must be canceled. He was told to report his students’ contact addresses so their parents can be informed that “the trip is not authorized or sponsored by the District.”
This is the way they treat one of the most famous and conscientious teachers in the country, who has worked 12-hour days for several decades, usually keeping his classroom open during summer, holidays and on some weekends. Hundreds of former students come to visit. He advises many of them on how to get into the best high schools and how to prepare for college. He asks everyone to call him “Rafe.” The main page of the school’s official Web site says it is “The Proud Home of Rafe Esquith and the Hobart Shakespeareans.”
There are no suggestions that he has harmed any children. But as many of the great teachers I have written about over the years have told me, if you work hard and show administrators how much better our schools could be if they took their responsibilities seriously, you are going to become a target for abuse.
I have witnessed many outrages by school districts, but this might be the worst yet.
Los Angeles Unified teacher Rafe Esquith, a popular teacher at Hobart Elementary School, 
was removed from his classroom in March and is awaiting the 
results of a school district’s investigation. (Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
LAUSD Says Investigation Into Allegations Against Popular Teacher 
Will Not be Rushed

Without providing more details about the allegations against a nationally recognized teacher, the leader of Los Angeles Unified said the district will not rush an investigation into why the instructor was removed from the classroom simply because of his popularity.
Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said the probe into allegations of misconduct against longtime Hobart Boulevard Elementary School teacher Rafe Esquith is “very complex” and must be handled carefully.
“While I respect that this teacher is extremely popular — and has been for some time — in the briefings that have been given to me, there are serious issues that go beyond the initial investigation,” Cortines said in a statement.
He added, “The Los Angeles Unified School District will not be rushed to make a decision and will complete our investigation with the highest level of integrity. The safety and security of every district student will remain our number one priority.”
Click here to read the full story on
Sexual harassment claim against L.A. Unified Supt. Cortines refiled
February 25, 2015

Sex scandal, cover-up claims at LAUSD: Former superintendent Ramon Cortines' accuser speaks out

Scot Graham

Sometimes, Scot Graham says, even the deepest secrets have to come out.
That's the reason the Los Angeles Unified leasing chief is suing retired Superintendent Ramon Cortines, alleging incidents of sexual misconduct going back more than a decade.
It's the rationale for the $10 million claim he's filed against the school district, accusing officials of defaming and failing to protect him.
And it's why Graham is speaking out for the first time since he was thrust into the public eye by LAUSD officials as they rebutted Graham's allegations against Cortines and the district and tried to prevent the accusations from erupting into a scandal.
During a candid interview this month at his West Hollywood condominium, Graham provided a context for understanding his friendship with Cortines, and his rationale for challenging the power structure of the nation's second-largest school district.
The two were introduced by a mutual friend in San Francisco in the late 1980s -- a time when the AIDS epidemic was exploding and most gay men kept their sexual orientation secret and socialized only among themselves.
Graham, the great-grandson of the founder of the Sears department store chain, was in his late 20s and a successful commercial developer.
"I was leading a secret life," said Graham, now 56. "It was awful, horrible. Gays didn't socialize with the straights, so people stayed in the closet. People were afraid to touch or be around gay people."
Cortines had been hired in 1986 as superintendent of San Francisco's school system. He was well-known within the gay community, Graham said, but carefully concealed his sexual orientation from the public.
Alienated from his own family because of his sexual orientation, Graham turned to "Ray" as a friend and confidant. Cortines, he said, wanted a different sort of relationship.
"He really pursued me, but I never showed any interest," Graham said.
"He was an older, gay man and I was really struggling. I did talk to him a lot about the fact that this AIDS crisis was devastating to go through ... It was emotional hell."
At one point, he told Cortines about his desire to find a more purposeful profession than building and leasing skyscrapers. Graham's family was very involved in education in his hometown of Phoenix, and he hoped for a similar mission.
"What I'd tell Ray was, 'I'm making all this money and I have this kind of glamorous job, but I couldn't care less. I am so hollow inside. I have no center. I'm so unhappy.'
"And so I did tell him that if he ever thought of anything that was meaningful, to let me know."
Graham eventually went to work for a Japanese development company that transferred him to Los Angeles in 1992. He desperately hoped that things would be different.
"After those horrible, dark, depressing years in San Francisco, I was going to live life happier," he said. "I went on a 10-year binge of living life the way I thought you were supposed to live it in Los Angeles."
That meant luxury homes in the Hollywood Hills, extravagant trips, and parties with rich and famous friends -- enviable experiences that still left him unfulfilled.
"I had made money but had not made a difference," Graham said.

Offered spiritual sustenance

In March 2000, he heard from Cortines, who was midway through a six-month stint as interim chief of LAUSD. Graham, who graduated with honors from Stanford and has an MBA from UCLA, said the superintendent called to offer him a job.
"'I've got the perfect thing, that takes advantage of your skills, and you'll find spiritual sustenance,"' Graham recalled Cortines saying. "And I said, 'Where? When?' And I thought it was God's answer."
Documents obtained under a Public Records Act request show that Graham began working as LAUSD's director of real estate on July 2, 2000.
Although district officials maintain that Graham received no preferential treatment, he said he never had to interview or even submit a resume before he was hired to the $150,000-a-year job.
Graham did have to take a significant pay cut but felt there would be an emotional payoff in working for the district. That changed, he said, within the first few days of Cortines offering him the job.
According to the lawsuit Graham filed last month, Cortines took him to dinner at the Water Grill and the two returned afterward to LAUSD headquarters. There, the suit said, Cortines groped him and asked him to have sex in the superintendent's office.
When Graham refused, Cortines told him "it was the least he could do" for getting him the job, according to the lawsuit. Graham rebuffed Cortines' advances, but feared that Cortines would retaliate.
"I was so ashamed," Graham said in the interview. "It was just so, so humiliating, and I didn't know who to tell or what to tell."
The district released a statement from Cortines in May, in which he denied that he had sexually harassed Graham at any time. His attorney said last week that Cortines stood by that statement.
Graham said he kept the incident with Cortines secret for years but eventually confided in a friend -- a conversation the woman confirmed recently to the Daily News.
"In an instant, your world changes," Graham said. "I used to be so self-confident and I believed I could do anything. And (then) I started to stutter. I couldn't sleep ... And also the fear that I couldn't tell anybody because it was such a good ol' boy system."

Job, love life turn around

By 2003, Graham said, he wanted to correct the situation Cortines had created. His job as real estate director entailed condemning properties for the district's multibillion-dollar school construction program, and Graham didn't feel qualified.
"I kept on saying to them, 'You hired the wrong guy. I don't know a thing about eminent domain ... My colleagues said, 'How did you get this job?' I said, 'Ray."'
At the time, there was another Real Estate Branch official whose title was director of real estate and asset management. According to Graham, officials spun off the job of leasing and asset management director, which he secured after following protocol in applying, testing and interviewing for the post.
"I love my job, I love being of service," he said. "There are very, very few people who understand that the survival of the school district depends on how well it's managed."
Graham's personal life also improved. In August 2004, he met Mark Bryant at a week-long yoga retreat in Hawaii. They wed a year later in Canada, and their marriage was among those validated later by a court ruling on Proposition 8.
Cortines returned to Los Angeles Unified as deputy superintendent in mid-May 2008, and he was promoted to the top spot in 2009. Over the next three years, he slashed $1.5 billion from the budget and laid off 2,700 teachers and 4,900 other employees as he dealt with a deepening financial crisis.
Terrified that Scot could lose his job, Graham and Bryant fostered a friendship with Cortines.
They had lunch with him at a restaurant near Cortines' Pasadena home. And in the the summer of 2009, Graham and Bryant accepted Cortines' invitation to "the ranch," a second home he owned in Tulare County.
Graham and Bryant said it was a pleasant weekend, that Cortines was a cordial host and everyone seemed to settle into their natural roles.
"I felt like I'd set the boundaries, that he knew we were together," said Bryant, who works as a therapist at a drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation center in Malibu. "I never had any strong feelings from him that he would usurp that. I never felt uncomfortable with Scot being there by himself ever ...
"I respected Ray," Bryant said, "but knew the power he had with Scot's job."

Weekend at the ranch

Cortines asked the couple to the ranch again on July 23, 2010, two days after he announced plans to retire and the day after his 78th birthday.
Bryant had a scheduling conflict. Graham couldn't find anyone else to go with him but feared retaliation if he refused Cortines' invitation.
According to Graham's lawsuit, Cortines made unwanted sexual advances during a walk they took after dinner that Friday.
Later, the suit said, Cortines came nude to Graham's bedroom -- which didn't have a lock -- and tried repeatedly to engage Scot in sex. Cortines then masturbated beside Graham, who lay "frozen from fear and shock," the suit said.
Cortines repeated the same activity on Saturday night, and made additional advances on Sunday morning, according to the suit. Graham fended Cortines off, but felt trapped, helpless and fearful for his safety, the suit said.
Graham said he tried to call Bryant, but couldn't get cellphone service and Cortines wouldn't let him near the only land-line phone. They'd driven up in the superintendent's car, and Cortines refused to take him home until Sunday.
On the four-hour drive back to L.A., Graham said, "I didn't say a word."
Property records show that Cortines sold the ranch in June.

Graham left 'distraught'

Once home, Graham told Bryant it had been "a terrible weekend" but didn't elaborate. Graham said he was worried about disrupting Bryant's studies, or that Bryant would act out against Cortines and jeopardize his job with the district.
He began seeing a therapist, but his health and work suffered, Graham said. In August 2010, he took his allegations to John Creer, an outside consultant who was his supervisor on a number of projects.
In a phone interview this month, Creer confirmed that Graham had spoken to him about the weekend and that he was "distraught."
Because Creer was an outside contractor, he suggested that Graham talk to James Sohn, who was then head of the Facilities Division.
Sohn no longer works for the district. However, in a phone interview last week, he confirmed that Graham reported his allegations in August, and said Scot "asked me very, very clearly to keep it as a private conversation."
According to the suit, Graham said Sohn was bound by district policy to report the allegations.
"Despite his duty to report and investigate employee complaints of sexual harassment, Sohn did not report the incident to the LAUSD or any other governmental entity," Graham alleges in his lawsuit.
Graham complained again to Sohn in September 2010, after Cortines called Graham at home and "made sexually suggestive remarks," the suit said.
According to Sohn, "I felt the allegations were worthy of elevating to a level above me ... He didn't really ask me to and I didn't tell him I was going to, but I felt I had the responsibility to report it."
At that point, Sohn went to General Counsel David Holmquist, who summoned Graham to his office on Oct. 13, 2010. Holmquist is the district's lead attorney and reports directly to the superintendent and the school board.
According to the lawsuit, Graham described his weekend in graphic detail, then asked Holmquist about the potential fallout of seeking an investigation into Cortines. He also expressed concern about retaliation if his allegations became public.
In his lawsuit, Graham said Holmquist suggested that he simply forget about the weekend, saying, "What is the point of ruining a man's career ... What are you going to accomplish by complaining?"
During the recent interview, which was conducted without his attorneys present, Graham recalled being "white and scared" when he went to see Holmquist. He said the lawyer asked whether he was OK and whether he was seeing a therapist.
"And he said, 'Well, you seem to be under good care.' And he said, 'Ray's retiring, and so the problem will fix itself.' I said, 'I guess.'
"And he said, 'I promise you, your secret's safe with me."'
The district has presented a different version of events.
During a news conference in May, officials released a "Chronology of Events," which says that Graham asked both Sohn and Holmquist not to take action against Cortines because it would be "much too embarrassing." Officials also said Graham expressed reluctance to tarnish Cortines' reputation since he was so close to retirement.
Linda Savitt, the outside attorney who is representing both the district and the 80-year-old Cortines, said she doesn't believe Graham's sexual-harassment allegations were treated differently because they involved the former superintendent.
"It's a function of what is reported, how it's reported, what the person wants done and what the situation is," she said. "The specifics have to be individually analyzed and addressed."
The district previously said Cortines had never before been accused of sexual harassment. Records requests filed with school districts where Cortines had previously worked -- Pasadena, San Jose, San Francisco and New York City -- also turned up no complaints.

Breaking his silence

Graham said his health problems worsened after Cortines retired in April 2011. He broke out in a rash and continues to suffer from other problems that doctors say are stress-related.
Although Cortines was no longer part of the district, Graham said he continued to fear his influence over those still in power.
Bryant said he thought it was important to keep Graham in Cortines' good graces so he continued to foster their friendship. The couple went to brunch with Cortines in December 2011 and invited him to their West Hollywood home in January.
Then in February, the sex-abuse scandal broke at Miramonte Elementary School, along with revelations that district officials had kept parents in the dark about the alleged incidents. About the same time, Graham was ordered to terminate a contractor accused of sexually harassing several female employees.
Graham said the two events convinced him there was a double standard and that it was time to break his silence. Graham told Bryant, who encouraged him to confront Cortines and the district.
"The naivete," Graham said. "It seemed like it wouldn't be that big of a deal. 'This is the truth,' 'This isn't the truth' ... It'll be a good healing experience and it will be over and done with in a matter of days because the facts are so obvious."
Graham hired attorney Arnold Peter, who sent a draft complaint to the district in March, outlining the allegations against Cortines and indicating they planned to file a claim.
The next day, Graham said, he returned to his office from lunch and was told that Superintendent John Deasy, Cortines' successor, had been looking for him. Unsure of what Deasy wanted, Graham went up to the superintendent's 24th floor office.
"He shuts the door, gives me a hug and sits me down and says, "I am so, so sorry,"' Graham recalled. "`I don't know know what to say. My heart goes out to you."'
Deasy would neither confirm nor deny the conversation.

Reaching a settlement

The two sides entered into arbitration and eventually reached a tentative settlement. Graham would receive $200,000 -- enough to pay his attorneys -- and lifetime health benefits, in exchange for him resigning on May 31.
"At that point I was physically sick and I didn't want to be there and I knew I couldn't get medical benefits," Graham said. "I remember feeling like, how could I have fallen so far, when I was making so much money and now all I want is health benefits?"
The school board argued about the agreement during three very tense closed-door meetings, before approving it by a 4-3 vote on May 22.
The next day, without alerting Graham or his attorneys, Savitt and district officials held a press conference at the nearby Chamber of Commerce office where they announced terms of the deal.
It was during that news conference that officials released the statement from Cortines in which he denied sexually harassing Graham, and said the two had engaged in a single incident of "consensual spontaneous adult behavior."
"As the district's former top staff member, I regret allowing myself to engage in such spontaneous, consensual behavior," the statement said. "However, Mr. Graham had never indicated to me that our interaction was unwelcome."
Graham said he was outraged by Cortines' statement, which was released on LAUSD letterhead and widely reported in the media.
"As a deeply committed, married man, who believes deeply in my vows, to have written in the paper that a public institution had divined that I had committed adultery, and not do anything about it, is a sin in itself," Graham said.
Graham did say that the statement was "a victory of sorts," since it's the first time Cortines had ever acknowledged that he is gay.
Over the years, Cortines has steadfastly deflected questions about his sexual orientation, and a district spokesman said the retired schools chief had no comment.

The deal is derailed

Although the district presented the agreement as finalized, Graham hadn't yet signed the deal. Its premature release derailed the settlement and created confusion over his employment status. He went on unpaid leave in June, before quietly returning to the job in July.
During that time, Graham filed the suit against Cortines. The former superintendent has not yet been served with the complaint, so has not filed a response, Savitt said.
Graham also filed a $10 million claim against Los Angeles Unified, saying he was defamed and his privacy was invaded by the release of the proposed settlement. The district denied the claim, and Graham's attorney said he is preparing to file suit against LAUSD.
Savitt's legal fees are being paid by taxpayers. The district refused a Public Records Act request for her contract, citing attorney-client privilege.
Since his return, Graham said, he has received numerous calls and emails of support from colleagues throughout the district. He draws strength from them, from Bryant and from his strong Catholic faith.
Out of his fight with the district, Graham said he hopes to be given the opportunity to advocate for marriage equality and to help raise awareness of the difficult path facing youngsters who are exploring their sexual identities and the support they need from their families -- something he didn't have in his own sheltered childhood.
"We wondered why is it that we lived through the AIDS holocaust?" he said. "In this loving universe, I believe that God has a higher purpose for us, that we saw how precious life is and we're here to tell a story."

L.A. Unified to settle harassment claim against Cortines

The district will pay $200,000 plus benefits worth up to $300,000 in return for Scot Graham's resignation. The ex-superintendent denies harassment but admits 'adult behavior.'

May 24, 2012|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Unified School District on Wednesday announced the settlement of a sexual harassment allegation against retired Supt. Ramon C. Cortines by a senior employee in the facilities division.
The district will pay $200,000 plus lifetime health benefits, valued at $250,000 to $300,000 to Scot Graham, the director of leasing and asset management. In return, Graham will resign from his $150,000-a-year job.
In a statement, Cortines, 79, denied any harassment, but acknowledged what he called "adult behavior on one occasion," adding that "as the district's former top staff member, I regret allowing myself to engage in such spontaneous, consensual behavior."
An attorney representing Graham, 56, challenged that interpretation.
"If, as the LAUSD and Ray Cortines claim, there was no wrongdoing, then one might ask why such a high settlement," said Arnold Peter.
Cortines, regarded as one of the nation's most respected superintendents, headed the school systems in Pasadena, San Jose, San Francisco and New York City. He first led L.A. Unified on an interim basis for six months in 2000, winning praise for his crisis management.
It was at that time, according to Cortines, that he alerted Graham, a friend from San Francisco, of openings in the district's rapidly expanding facilities division, which was launching a massive school construction program.
Graham joined the district and was there when Cortines returned in 2008, first as deputy superintendent, then as superintendent.
"There were facilities-related projects that required us to work together," Cortines said, adding that Graham, his partner and Cortines continued to meet socially as recently as January.
Graham alleged that Cortines made "inappropriate verbal and physical advances" during a weekend visit to Cortines' Kern County ranch in July 2010.
About a month later, Graham told his supervisor, James Sohn, but said that he would deal with the issue privately "by going to a therapist," according to a district chronology.
When Graham later reported that Cortines subsequently called him at home, Sohn insisted on alerting general counsel David Holmquist.
Graham again insisted that no action be taken, the district said.
Graham reported to Holmquist that there were no other incidents, according to the district.
According to Graham's attorneys, the district's account is inaccurate and incomplete. Graham "complained on at least three occasions to executives at the highest levels... who not only refused to investigate the very serious allegations, but encouraged Mr. Graham to drop his complaints."
They would not identify the executives.
Cortines retired in April 2011. In March 2012, Graham's attorneys alerted Holmquist of their intent to file a claim.
The school board has discussed the matter three times in closed session, approving a deal Tuesday by a 4-3 vote.
Richard Vladovic, Bennett Kayser and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte cast dissenting votes. "The district should have utilized its resources to pursue an aggressive defense," they said in a joint statement.
Linda Savitt, an attorney for L.A. Unified, responded by saying that 98% of harassment claims are settled out of court and that even a successful defense would probably have cost more money.
Savitt, and a public relations firm, Cerrell & Associates, were brought in because the issue was sensitive, officials said. The district took the unusual step Wednesday of announcing the settlement to reporters at a briefing at the Chamber of Commerce headquarters west of downtown.
Savitt said her compensation was "less than $10,000." The district said it does not yet know the price tag for Cerrell's services.