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Published in Print: April 19, 2000, as Los Angeles Subdivides District As Romer Considers Chief's Job

Los Angeles Subdivides District As Romer Considers Chief's Job

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Los Angeles school board members agreed last week to split their sprawling district into 11 subdistricts.

Former Gov. Roy Romer

The overhaul of the district's management structure came amid news that former Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado had expressed interest in the superintendent's job in the nation's second-largest district. The Los Angeles Times reported that Mr. Romer had met with district officials and interim Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines to discuss the possibility.

The school board is scheduled to hire a permanent replacement for Mr. Cortines by next month.The school board's April 11 vote approved Mr. Cortines' plan to divide the Los Angeles Unified School District into smaller parts that he believes will be more accessible to the public and easier to govern.

Under the plan, hundreds of employees will move from the central office downtown to sites in each subdistrict. The plan also eliminates about 800 jobs and will save an estimated $46 million a year in the district's $7.5 billion budget.

The area superintendents will be able to make important decisions that affect educators, parents, and students in their immediate neighborhoods, Mr. Cortines said in an interview last week.

Each subdistrict will have about 60,000 students on average, allowing the area superintendent and others the "kind of identity with the local community ... that indeed can in time improve student achievement," Mr. Cortines said.

His plan includes the creation of a 13-member advisory council of parents, business leaders, and students in each subdistrict. It also will require both teachers and principals to rotate into subdistrict-office jobs helping their colleagues address various problems.

"You may be a bureaucrat for a time," Mr. Cortines said of teachers and other educatorsbut not forever, he added.

'Should I Do This?'

Mr. Cortines, a former New York City schools chancellor, took the interim post in Los Angeles five months ago when Ruben Zacarias resigned. His successor will face a long list of deep-seated issues: a brewing teacher-contract battle, management problems and cost overruns in school construction projects, lagging student achievement, and a lack of public support.

Results of a Los Angeles Times poll published last week showed that 70 percent of the area's residents rated the school district as "fair or poor."

Above all, Mr. Cortines said, the main concern of the new superintendent should be student learning.

"This district has got to focus on its major educational issue: That is teaching children to read," he said. He added that training in the use of a new reading curriculum would begin soon for 8,000 teachers.

Meanwhile, Mr. Romer could not be reached for comment late last week about his reported interest in the Los Angeles job.

As the governor of Colorado from 1987 to 1999, he stressed early-childhood education, helped resolve teacher-contract disputes in the Denver schools, and became a prominent national voice on education issues. He also served as the general chairman of the Democratic National Committee for two years, until last fall.

"It's got to be one of the toughest jobs in America," Mr. Romer told the The Los Angeles Times last week, speaking about the superintendent's job. "Right now, I'm just working hard to find the facts of the circumstance so I can answer this question: Should I do this?"

Vol. 19, Issue 32, Page 6

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