Senior L.A. Unified official will head Burbank school district

Matt Hill, an LAUSD official associated with academic gains but also iPad program, will head Burbank schools

A senior Los Angeles school district official who is closely associated with that system's recent successes and failures will be the next leader of the Burbank Unified School District.

Matt Hill, 38, was selected Thursday night on a 4-0 vote by the Board of Education.

Hill's three-year contract calls for a salary of $241,000 annually. He replaces Jan Britz, who is retiring at the end of the school year. Her base pay is $205,000, with expense allowances worth about $25,000 a year.

Hill has never been a teacher, nor headed a school system, but for six years he was a central figure in the nation's second-largest district, which made academic gains over that time. As a senior aide to former Supt. John Deasy, Hill was closely associated with the district's now-abandoned $1.3 billion iPads-for-all program and the flawed rollout of a new online student records system. Deasy resigned under pressure last fall.

"He's really analyzed those situations thoroughly in his own mind and was able to articulate where and why those failures occurred," said school board member Larry Applebaum. "He thought about it and learned from it."

Applebaum said Hill would add business savvy to a school system that already is well stocked with skilled educators. One challenge would be "multiple software systems in business services that don't talk to each other."

The district, which has about 15,500 students, also needs to solve its own technology shortcomings and would benefit from Hill's experience, he said.

Hill declined to be interviewed Friday, saying he was "humbled and honored" by the opportunity.

He received a vote of confidence from current L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who hired Hill during an earlier stint when Cortines was in charge of L.A. Unified in 2009.

"I brought him on mainly because of his ability to think out of the box," Cortines said. "There isn't anything he isn't willing to try, and 'no' was not in his vocabulary. It was always: "We'll try to find an answer for that.'"

Hill was recommended to Cortines by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. At the time, Hill held a senior position in the Oakland school system, but he had gone through a leadership training program linked to the foundation.

Philanthropist Eli Broad has been a major player in political battles with teacher unions over education policy, which, to critics, has made foundation trainees ideologically suspect. Broad also initially paid Hill's salary at L.A. Unified.

Under Cortines and then Deasy, Hill had wide-ranging duties, taking on such challenges as working through budget cuts and layoffs during the state recession. He also helped manage a controversial process by which outside groups could bid for control of new and low-performing schools operated by the district.

"He has had the opportunity to see all aspects of this district," Cortines said.

Hill was part of the team in charge during a period of improved graduation rates and test scores. That same team also managed the two technology projects, contributing to the resignations of Deasy and chief of technology Ron Chandler.

Hill was hired near the end of a contentious week. The Burbank Teachers Assn. accused the school board of multiple violations of state open-meeting rules. These included the board's alleged failure to disclose its selection of Hill as the finalist for the top job. The union is seeking a review by the L.A. county district attorney.

On Tuesday, Hill fielded questions at an emotionally charged community meeting. The union and other critics complained about Hill's background with the Broad foundation, his role in bringing charter schools to L.A. Unified and his involvement in the iPad program and the student records system.

howard.blume@latimes.com
Twitter:@howardblume

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