Investment banker and former Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner was hired Tuesday as Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District despite concerns about his lack of experience in the education field.
Beutner, 58, was chosen on a 5-2 vote, with board members George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson objecting. The board approved a three-year contract that provides Beutner with a base salary of $350,000 per year.
"It is my distinct honor and privilege to take on the responsibility to lead the L.A. Unified School District, a complex, diverse organization, full of students bursting with potential,'' Beutner said in a statement released by LAUSD.
Board member Nick Melvoin said Beutner was the right choice "in a climate of financial uncertainty, pervasive achievement gaps and severe underfunding of our public schools."
"To ensure success for our kids, adults must acknowledge that the status quo is not working," Melvoin said. "I'm excited to work with our new superintendent and my colleagues to bring new thinking to stale challenges and accelerate achievement for all our kids."
Before the board held its final closed-session meeting on the superintendent search Tuesday, a series of parents spoke to the panel in support of Vivian Ekchian, who has been serving as interim superintendent following the departure of Michelle King, who went on medical leave in September and announced in January she had cancer and would not be returning to work.
A representative for United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents district teachers, spoke out against the choice of Beutner and accusing the board of conducting "the least transparent, most fast-tracked superintendent selection in the history of the LAUSD."
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The union also expressed dismay at Beutner's selection in general, accusing him of making money by "consolidating businesses and laying off workers."
Other speakers also blasted the choice of Beutner, who has no experience managing a school or a school district, as a move engineered by a majority block of board members who support an expansion of privately run charter schools within the district.
Schmerelson said he opposed Beutner's selection because he has "absolutely no experience in the field of public education."
"He has never taught in a public school, never managed a public school, has no instructional background and has never worked for a school district of any size," Schmerelson said. "The board majority refused to exercise due diligence regarding Mr. Beutner's lengthy and tangled business affairs, including the disputed delivery of services and of a $3 million contract between L.A. Unified and Vision to Learn, an organization that he founded and continues to lead.''
Schmerelson also criticized the selection process, saying a majority of the board voted on April 20 to authorize contract negotiations with Beutner.
Beutner and Ekchian were the final two candidates standing in a competition that was initially narrowed to four people. The other two applicants -- former Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso and Indianapolis schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee -- both withdrew their names from consideration.
In 2010, Beutner became first deputy mayor of Los Angeles under Antonio Villaraigosa, overseeing business and job development. He was part of the Villaraigosa administration for about a year, also filling in as interim director of the Department of Water and Power.
He ran for mayor in 2012 when Villaraigosa termed out, but his campaign never caught on and he dropped out early. In 2014, Beutner co-chaired the 2020 Commission, which made recommendations for the future of Los Angeles. He then became publisher and chief executive of the Los Angeles Times but was fired after a year over disagreements about the newspaper's direction.
He more recently served on the LA Unified Advisory Task Force created under King to help meet goals in the district's strategic plan and "to foster a culture of change in which we identify opportunities and embrace solutions to close the achievement gap."
LAUSD board president Monica Garcia urged "every stakeholder inside and outside of our district to join the new superintendent and this board in fulfilling our mission to serve every child in every classroom in every school well on their way to graduation."
Beutner will take over a district facing financial struggles and labor issues. Thousands of unionized cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians and other support personnel have already authorized a strike, citing a stall in contract talks.
The union representing the workers, SEIU Local 99, issued a statement saying it shares Beutner's goals of closing the achievement gap and "achieving greater equity in our schools."
"We hope to work with him to reach these goals and improve public education in Los Angeles without privatization of our schools,'' according to the union. "... Students cannot learn if they are hungry, sick or poor and we expect Mr. Beutner to partner with school workers, parents, students and our communities to address the many issues impacting our children's education.''