Cortines Named LAUSD Superintendent

As expected, the Los Angeles Unified school board Tuesday hired Ramon C. Cortines, a senior deputy superintendent, to take over for outgoing superintendent David L. Brewer III.

Brewer will be leaving the district at the end of the month. The LAUSD board voted last week to pay Brewer about $500,000 to buy out the remaining two years of his contract.

"We're going to have to make some very hard decisions," Cortines said following the board's unanimous vote. "There will be change and change will be good for all of us."

Cortines agreed to a three-year contract and will take over as superintendent of the nation's second-largest school district Jan. 1. The terms of his contract were not immediately available.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he knew Cortines well and was "thrilled" with the appointment.

"Ramon is a well-respected leader who brings many years of extensive education experience, relationships and dedication to the table -- and I have the utmost confidence in his ability to successfully lead California's largest school district into the future," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

Cortines was hired by Brewer in April to oversee LAUSD's day-to-day operations and instruction. Brewer has described the partnership as a success, but it drew criticism on grounds that it meant, in effect, paying for two superintendents.

Cortines will now take over a district plagued with budget problems that will likely be further exacerbated by anticipated cuts in state funding.

School board president Monica Garcia said Tuesday she was "very concerned about the impact of the financial crisis on our state."

LAUSD officials have said Schwarzenegger's proposal to cut $2.5 billion from the state's education budget would mean $200 million in reductions in Los Angeles over the coming months. That amount is on top of the $427 million reduction since the start of the school year, officials said.

"This is one of the toughest jobs in the country due to the budget crisis in Sacramento," said school board member Tamar Galatzan.

Cortines said he was well aware of the hardships the district is facing.

"I'm not focusing on the negative because in these issues we face, there is opportunity," he said.

Cortines, 76, served as LAUSD interim superintendent in 2000. He served as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's top education adviser and previously headed school districts in New York and San Francisco.

The LAUSD has about 700,000 students.

The school board's vote to oust Brewer followed at least a week of debate among district leaders. The board met in closed session two weeks ago to consider buying out his contract, but the issue was tabled because board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte -- the only black board member -- was unable to attend the meeting.

The board convened again a week later and voted 5-2 to buy out Brewer's contract, with LaMotte and board member Julie Korenstein dissenting.

Brewer, a retired black U.S. Navy vice admiral, previously called the effort to oust him "demoralizing and debilitating" and suggested he was the victim of racism.

"As an African-American, I've experienced my share of discrimination," Brewer said the day before the board voted to buy out his contract. "I know what it looks like, smells like and the consequences. Although this debate is disconcerting and troubling, it must not become an ethnic issue.

"When adults fight, it can manifest itself in our children," he added. "This must not become an ethnic or a racial battle that infests our schools, our campuses, our playgrounds. This is not about settling an old score; this is about what is best for every LAUSD student."

Brewer had earlier vowed to stay on the job, but he said last week he wanted the board to buy him out -- even though he said the district had made significant improvements during his two years on the job.

The move to oust Brewer midway though his four-year contract came in response to indications that he had lost the backing of key civic leaders, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Mayor Richard Riordan and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad.

Brewer recently addressed criticism of his administration by bringing in Cortines. But the move failed to change the perception of critics that Brewer's management skills were not equal to the task of navigating the LAUSD's politics and funding crisis.

Brewer's supporters have noted that test scores have bumped upward and, with the superintendent serving as the district's chief lobbyist, voters last month resoundingly approved the largest-ever local school bond for the LAUSD.

But A.J. Duffy, president of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, said those accomplishments were already in motion when Brewer took over. Other critics, including state schools superintendent Jack O'Connell, said that while the district was showing improvement -- the improvement wasn't happening fast enough.

Brewer was chosen as superintendent after an eight-month search to find a replacement for Roy Romer, former Colorado governor, who retired after six years at the helm of the LAUSD.

Contact Us