Garcetti: Next LA schools superintendent should be in 'Romer mold'

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says Los Angeles Unified's next superintendent should have the qualities of a former superintendent, Roy Romer.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says Los Angeles Unified's next superintendent should have the qualities of a former superintendent, Roy Romer.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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Mayor Eric Garcetti suggested the Los Angeles Unified School District look to the past as it searches for a superintendent for the future.

Asked Thursday what he would like to see in the next leader of the country's second largest school district, Garcetti said: “Somebody in the Roy Romer mold, I think, who has the gravitas.”

Romer was a three-term governor of Colorado and the general chairman of the Democratic National Committee before he arrived in Los Angeles to serve as superintendent from 2000 to 2006. During his tenure, he shepherded a massive school construction project and helped expand charter schools.

With several camps currently battling over the direction of LAUSD, Garcetti said the district’s next superintendent should have Romer’s political skills.

“I do think you need somebody with enough gravitas to bring these warring parties together, hit their heads together and say, ‘Look, the kids have to come first,” he said, speaking after a press conference on the Department of Water and Power.

Since taking office as mayor, Garcetti has rarely commented publicly on the direction of the public schools. In sharp contrast to previous mayors, Garcetti has generally refrained from voicing opinions on how the 600,000-student LAUSD should operate or how it can be improved.

His immediate predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, made public education a top priority of his campaign and administration. He actively sought control of the LAUSD school board through state legislation that was later ruled unconstitutional.

The teachers' union opposed his move to assert his authority over the board as did then-Superintendent Romer.

Romer’s leadership was marked by urgency and statesmanship, said LAUSD school board president Steve Zimmer.

“More important than the profile of the name is this ability to truly galvanize our disparate communities, our disparate perspectives, and bring people together in a way that has not been done recently,” Zimmer said.

But not everyone shares Zimmer's and Garcetti's positive assessment of the former superintendent. 

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl remembers Romer as a top-down leader who didn’t collaborate with the labor group. 

“We don’t need a superintendent who is going to try to bring the so-called warring parties together,” Caputo-Pearl said.

The effort by philanthropist Eli Broad to double the number of charter schools in Los Angeles will destroy the school district as an institution, he said.

“We need a superintendent who is going to push back against that effort,” the labor leader said.

On Monday, Caputo-Pearl shared his opinions on the next superintendent with Hazard, Young, Attea & Assoicates, the search firm hired by LAUSD to help run the hunt for its next superintendent. The firm is scheduling more than 100 meetings with civic leaders and community groups within the school district to gather views on the kind of superintendent needed for the district.

Earlier on Thursday, Garcetti met with Hank Gmitro, the president of the search firm, to share his views on the topic.

Public forums continue to be held throughout the district to collect comments on the superintendent search. A list of dates, times and locations are available on the LAUSD website.