LAUSD seeks public input in superintendent search

FILE: The Los Angeles Unified School District is organizing a series of forums to gather public comment on the selection of its next superintendent.
FILE: The Los Angeles Unified School District is organizing a series of forums to gather public comment on the selection of its next superintendent.
File photo by Letsdance Tonightaway/Flickr Creative Commons

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The Los Angeles Unified school board has given itself a December deadline to hire a new superintendent, but first it wants to hear from the public.

Officials are scheduling a series of 14 forums from Oct. 19 to Oct. 28 to gather comments on the kind of superintendent the public wants to see hired and the issues he should tackle.

The district didn't state when and where the public forums will be held, but said in a news release that the details will be made available in coming days on its website

The call for comments comes a day after a group of 37 organizations led by United Way of Greater Los Angeles issued an open letter to the LAUSD school board outlining characteristics it wants in a new superintendent. The group, calling itself Communities for Los Angeles Student Success, recommended a committee of civil rights and community leaders interview the top three candidates.

The board has hired Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, an executive search firm, to help it search for a successor to Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

Cortines was called out of retirement in October 2014 to take over for former Superintendent John Deasy, who resigned after mounting problems with the district's iPad and student data programs and rising tensions with the teachers union and the school board.

Cortines announced that he wants to step down in December, so a successor would need to be named by January.

“I’m confident that can happen,” said Steve Zimmer, LAUSD school board president, but he left open the possibility that the timeline may be extended.

“If getting the best person means adjustments to that calendar, then we are prepared for those contingencies,” Zimmer said. That might include keeping Cortines on the job in the new year, or continuing the work of the search firm until a new superintendent is hired.

The school board has not given its search firm deadlines for such key steps in the process as when it should take candidate resumes or interview candidates, nor has it said how many finalists the firm should forward to the school board. 

Zimmer said the school board will take up those questions at its next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday. Although the board meets in open session at 1 p.m., an item on the employment of superintendent of schools is on its closed session agenda and that meeting begins at 10 a.m.

As part of its effort to get broad public comment on the next superintendent, the district has created surveys in five languages to hear what qualities and experience people would like to see in L.A. Unified’s next superintendent.

The surveys are available on the district webpage with information on the school district’s superintendent search.

LAUSD said it wants the discussions to revolve around what problems the school district faces in the next three years, what LAUSD has done well and should be continued, and what traits the new superintendent should have.

“There wasn’t public input in the selection of John Deasy” and that should have been gathered, said Zimmer.

Los Angeles Urban League CEO Nolan Rollins agrees the public should have a part in the selection of a new superintendent. His group is among the members of the Communities for Los Angeles Student Success calling for more community involvement in the superintendent's selection.

“This is probably one of the most important decisions that will be made, not just in educational circles,” but in L.A. politics, Rollins said. 

Some of the organizations in the group have been strong supporters of Deasy, a reform-minded educator who has since joined The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems backed by philanthropist Eli Broad. 

The Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation recently circulated a draft plan calling for creation of 260 charter schools in Los Angeles, a move that Zimmer said threatens the financial stability of LAUSD.

The draft plan suggests funding for the initiative could come from a range of foundations and individuals, including Bill and Melinda Gates.

Rollins said his group is not trying to push one education ideology over another.

“I expect the process to be politicized, but I think that when you create and when you partner with community you begin to pull some of the politics away from it,” he said.