After 40 Years in L.A., Anton Resigns as Superintendent

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With harsh words for four school board members and the leadership of the teachers' union, William R. Anton, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, announced last week that he was retiring after a 40-year career in the district.

Mr. Anton said he was proud of his accomplishments in holding the district together during an unprecedented fiscal crisis that had caused "severe'' low morale among employees.

Nonetheless, he said, it was time to retire for personal and professional reasons.

"It's time for me to go smell the roses and be part of my family,'' Mr. Anton, who is 68, said at a press conference called to explain his decision.

The superintendent made his announcement as the board of education struggled to come to grips with the district's fiscal crisis.

To close a $400 million budget gap, the district has proposed saving $247 million by reducing employees' pay by an average of 17.5 percent. The United Teachers of Los Angeles has threatened to strike rather than accept such a cut.

Mr. Anton, who accused four members of the board of "micromanaging'' the district, said he believes that "there is undue influence on the board of education by the U.T.L.A.''

Helen Bernstein, the president of the union local, said that, far from controlling the board, teachers feel "absolutely beleaguered by the lack of leadership all around.''

"I just think what's happened is the superintendent was unwilling to go the distance,'' she said. "Instead of just saying, 'Look, I quit,' he decided to divert attention from what's really going on.''

Concern for Other Unions

Specifically, Mr. Anton said he was concerned that the board would lay off lower-paid classified employees to spare teachers' salaries.

The district has identified almost $70 million that can be used to reduce the proposed pay cuts by 3.5 percent, the superintendent said, but he warned that he did not support laying off employees to generate further savings.

In a statement in support of Mr. Anton, Eli Brent, the president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, noted that the district's other unions have been willing to accept pay cuts to prevent massive layoffs. He accused the U.T.L.A. of wanting to see other employees fired to "preserve their economic comfort level.''

But Ms. Bernstein said such a charge was false and pointed out that the agreements reached by the other unions will give their members the same raises as teachers receive.

Leticia Quezada, the board's president, said at a press conference that members were surprised by Mr. Anton's decision. Each member "stands on his or her own record,'' she said, "and is prepared to be held accountable by his and her constituents.''

The board also is "determined to reduce the proposed 17 percent employee pay cut and to do it in a manner that treats all our employees fairly and equitably,'' she said.

Students' Role Examined

Mr. Anton also accused the leadership of the teachers' union of manipulating students into political action during the crisis and said he was troubled that board members had not criticized the actions.

If teachers were truly concerned about students, he added, they would not refuse to hold back-to-school nights and withhold other services.

Ms. Bernstein said students had demonstrated and written letters out of their own concern and not at the prompting of teachers. As for refusing to perform "unpaid duties,'' she said teachers were protesting a proposed pay cut that might force them to take second jobs.

Despite his professional concerns, the superintendent stressed that personal reasons played a large role in his decision to retire.

Noting that three members of his immediate family have died this year, Mr. Anton said he had "a renewed sense of my own mortality.''

Because the district faces the challenge of implementing both the reform recommendations of a local coalition and a sweeping consent decree on the allocation of resources, he said, it needs a superintendent willing to serve for three or four years. Mr. Anton said he was not prepared to make such a commitment to the job.

A district spokesman said the board intends to name a Los Angeles administrator to serve as an interim superintendent and then to conduct a national search for a new leader, who would begin work next July.

Vol. 12, Issue 04

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