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Commentary: Don’t expect ‘super’ in LA Unified’s next superintendent

Michael Janofsky | January 5, 2016

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superintendent searchThe finish line is in view. In all likelihood, by this time next week, LA Unified will have its next superintendent.

Just who that will be remains uncertain to the world beyond the seven board members and a few district officials. The process has been moving along at a relatively brisk pace, considering the enormity of the job, and to the board’s credit, there have been no leaks.

But it’s not that difficult to speculate on the kind off superintendent this board wants to lead the district: In short, the person selected will have qualifications, background and political savvy as close to Ramon Cortines and as far from John Deasy as possible.

More than anything, this board does not want a superintendent with a strong, independent vision or aggressive agenda: Cortines won the board’s love by anticipating where the majority of support lies on a given issue, then acting on it. He also offered wise counsel, reflecting his decades of work in administration.

But as in any other high-profile election —  and that is what this is, with board members who view public education through vastly different prisms — the winning candidate will not satisfy every constituent group on every important issue.

More than likely, the new superintendent will come from a mid-sized to large school district that has been run effectively and without the drama usually present here as it plays out in opposing philosophical views about charter schools and the ever-present challenge to satisfy the district’s largest labor partners.

Given the size of LA Unified as measured by its budget, student population, facilities and needs, there is likely not a Super-superintendent in the wings. The choice will be a mortal, with more strengths than weaknesses, but weaknesses nonetheless; more of a collaborator than a decider, more a steady doubles hitter than a home run threat who strikes out as often as clears the bases.

If that is, indeed, the ideal candidate, and more than one candidate remains under consideration, the final choice in a city as diverse as Los Angeles could be determined by demographics: Since 1937, LA Unified boards have tended to choose white men, with an occasional black (David Brewer) and Latino (Ruben Zacarias, Cortines). What they have never chosen is a woman.

The guess here is that any of the remaining candidates would be acceptable to the board, and the person selected will be the one judged to have the highest ratio of assets to liabilities, gender notwithstanding. And the only element of skin that will matter is not the color but the thickness, for the criticism sure to follow.

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