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LAUSD board welcomes public to supe search — but only to a point

Mike Szymanski | October 14, 2015

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superintendent searchFor the first time, the public yesterday got a full picture of how LA Unified intends to carry out the search and selection of the district’s next superintendent, with a process that encourages transparency and public participation — but only until the final stages.

Hank Gmitro of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the firm handing the search, walked the district school board —  and the public — through a four-phase effort that is scheduled to conclude by late December with the hiring of a new superintendent.

“This is the single-most important job in public education in the nation,” said board President Steve Zimmer, amplifying the importance of the search. “We intend to have the best candidates and the best outcome.”

Gmitro said the process is currently moving from the first stage — planning — to the second — recruiting — as the firm organizes a series of 13 community meetings and 14 staff forums and dozens more meetings with focus groups, community organizations and community leaders recommended by board members. They’re all set to begin on Oct. 19.

The community input will be compiled into written and oral reports and presented to the board on Nov. 10, he said, after which the members can discuss the challenges, issues and the characteristics they want in the next superintendent.

The goal, Gmitro said, was to bring a group of finalists to the board by mid-December, at which point the board would interview each one, then bring back the finalists for a second round of interviews.

Board member Mónica Ratliff interrupted Gmitro’s presentation to make a motion that the finalists be introduced in a public forum. But it was defeated in a 4-3 vote on the rationale that publicly identifying finalists would breach promised confidentialities that enabled the search firm to recruit the best candidates.

Voting against the public disclosure were Zimmer, George McKenna, Ref Rodriguez and Mónica García. Ratliff was joined in dissent by  Scott Schmerelson and Richard Vladovic.

With some grumbling from the audience about his “No” vote, McKenna explained that the community elected him to make the decision, not to defer the responsibility to others. “Confidentiality must be tight so candidates names are not exposed to the public,” he said. He pointed out that many of the community leaders in the audience never asked him to sit in on their organizational choice for leader.

García said she wanted the best possible candidate and supported the confidential process but then launched into an impassioned speech for the large audience.

“It is very, very hard to be a successful superintendent, and I am hopeful that our big LAUSD community takes experiences and reflectiveness over what you can do to make the next superintendent successful,” she said, adding that the next superintendent should be someone who has “aligned and fought to save public education so that more people can read and write. When we work together, we have shown we can overcome what we looks like insurmountable odds.”

Ratliff rasied another concern, that she heard that a list of five finalists has already been developed. Gmitro said that it wasn’t true.

“We only have just begun the process and we are not even vetting candidates until the board establishes the desired characteristics through the community input,” Gmitro said.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president from UTLA, said he was approached about having some input into the superintendent search and would cooperate as much as possible.

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