The superintendent of the nation’s second-largest school district plans to retire next year after serving less than two years amid massive layoffs, controversial reform and a construction scandal.
Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines, 78, intends to retire sometime next spring, although he has still not decided exactly when, district spokesman Robert Alaniz said Thursday.
“I have to lay the groundwork for transition,” Cortines told the Daily News in a story published Thursday. “This district needs to have continuity, flexibility, accountability.”
The superintendent’s decision to leave before the end of his three-year contract, which expires in December 2011, caught board members and staff by surprise, Alaniz said. It was unclear how an early departure would affect the contract.
The announcement came just a month after the district hired a deputy superintendent, a move that sparked speculation that Cortines was implementing a succession plan for his retirement. Cortines has already moved to a smaller office to give his incoming deputy the larger office, Alaniz said.
John Deasy, formerly deputy director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, starts his new post as deputy superintendent Aug. 2.
Cortines has won praise during his 18-month term at the district’s helm for trying to appease all sides. He has presided over $1.5 billion in budget cuts and the layoffs of nearly 3,000 teachers, as well as thousands of support personnel, which sparked numerous raucous rallies outside district headquarters.
A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he respected the superintendent, despite their positions on opposite sides of the negotiating table.
“He could be a stubborn, old man, but he understood the classroom because in his heart, he never left the classroom,” Duffy said. “I’ll miss him.”
Cortines is also credited with shepherding a school reform plan that turns over the district’s lowest performing schools to charters and independent groups. Critics, however, have claimed Cortines did not go far enough and caved to the interests of the powerful teachers union.
Cortines has also had to deal with fallout from a conflict of interest scandal in the district’s facilities construction department that led to the indictment of a top official.
Duffy believes the district’s financial struggles contributed to the early departure.
“He’s done a difficult job in a difficult time,” Duffy said.
Cortines started his education career five decades ago teaching sixth grade in a small school district near Monterey and high school English in Covina before moving to the administrative side as assistant principal.
He served as superintendent of schools in Pasadena, San Francisco, San Jose and New York. He began his current post in January 2009 after serving as interim superintendent and as deputy mayor for education for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
He has worked at numerous universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and Brown and advised every president or his secretary of education since Jimmy Carter.
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