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LA Unified board preparing first step toward hiring new superintendent

Mike Szymanski | July 29, 2015

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Superintendent Ray Cortines

The LA Unified board takes its first step in choosing a new superintendent, with a largely closed door meeting scheduled for tomorrow night.

It’s a baby step, with the seven-member board most likely deciding on the parameters and requirements for a head-hunting firm that will bring them the top names for the position.

While it’s a lofty job and a challenge for any search firm, given the complexities of LA Unified in terms of size, annual budget and classroom demands, there are a handful of companies that specialize in educators and school administrators, such as Korn Ferry Executive Recruitment and Talent Management based in Los Angeles, which was hired for two past superintendent searches.

This time the board is seeking a successor for Ramon Cortines (again), who stepped in after John Deasy left last year. Cortines, who was hired without a search firm, has said he wants to leave by the end of the year but might agree to stay until an ideal replacement is found.

The administrative position paid Deasy nearly $440,000 a year salary. That’s more than the governor makes, and about $100,000 more than the district is paying Cortines. This second-largest school district in the nation has about 644,000 students.

The agenda for the meeting indicates that the members will discuss a “request for proposals” from search firms and consultants that could help seek a short list for a replacement of the superintendent.

It would be the first technical step for the superintendent search. The board plans to have a more in depth conversation in future meetings.

Board members have made no secret of their desire to find a Cortines clone. They have lauded him for bringing a steady hand to the district in the aftermath of Deasy’s departure, the continuing problems with MISIS, continuing budget deficits and the ever-present war over charter schools.

But it’s far from clear whom the members might regard as the best candidate — someone leading another big city district? A well-credentialed leader of a mid-size city? Someone currently employed by LA Unified in a senior management position? Someone with strong ties to unions? A total outsider, in the manner of Roy Romer, who was a former governor of Colorado before he was hired in 2000?

One thing the LA Unified has never done is hire a female to lead the district. All previous superintendents, dating back to 1937, have been male. Nor has the board ever hired an Asian.

Among the items on the open agenda, preceding the closed session, are:

  • Reauthorization of Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
  • Appointment of a board representative to the National School Boards Association
  • Approving board meetings for Aug. 30 and Sept. 15


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