LAUSD board to determine how much public should affect superintendent search

Los Angeles Unified's newly elected school board president, Steve Zimmer, speaks during a board meeting on July 1, 2015 at LAUSD headquarters.
Los Angeles Unified's newly elected school board president, Steve Zimmer, speaks during a board meeting on July 1, 2015 at LAUSD headquarters.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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As the Los Angeles Board of Education firms up details on how it will carry out its search for a new superintendent, some are asking whether it will follow Boston’s lead and allow the public to interview finalists.

“It is a popularity contest already, but it’s a popularity contest behind closed doors,” said John Perez, the former president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

He argues public forums would bring forth the most pointed questions about how a new leader plans to improve public education for 650,000 kids — two thirds of whom failed to meet English standards last year and 75 percent of which couldn't perform math at their grade level.

School Board President Steve Zimmer said he supports the idea. On Tuesday, the board will take up how it'll go about reaching out to the public as part of its plan to hire a new superintendent.

The current one, Ramon Cortines, wants to round out his third tenure at the end of December. He agreed to step in last year when John Deasy resigned after federal prosecutors launched a probe into his pet project to equip every student with an iPad.

“There wasn’t public input in the selection of John Deasy,” Zimmer said. “We needed to have a process then and I think we would have better served if we had.”

The school district has posted an online survey, translated into four other languages, asking the public for its input on the ideal superintendent. Fourteen community forums are scheduled in the last two weeks of October to hear what kind of superintendent the public wants.

Former Los Angeles Unified school board member Mike Lansing was on the school boards that picked Roy Romer and David Brewer as superintendents. He said school board members can reach out to constituents through their staff. He worries public forums may discourage people from applying for fear that the process would reveal their efforts to find a new job to current employers.

And he said it can be a distraction.

“You don’t want this to become a 'Dancing With the Stars' thing where people are voting so many different priorities that maybe aren’t best for kids," he said.

That didn’t appear to worry the Boston school system. In February of this year, its superintendent search committee organized live-streamed public interviews with each of the four finalists.

A group of 50 education and civic groups calling itself Communities for Los Angeles Student Success recently called for public input in the superintendent search but the coalition does not support public interviews of superintendent candidates.

Instead, the groups are pushing for the creation of a search committee made up of civic leaders to vet candidates and coordinate the search efforts.