LOCAL Education
Q&A

L.A. schools Supt. Michelle King: Four questions about her future

The outgoing Los Angeles Board of Education voted in June to extend Supt. Michelle King’s contract through the 2019-2020 school year.

Her backers cite the district’s record-high graduation rate, improved programs for students learning English and reduced expulsion and suspension rates as proof of her effectiveness. But a reconfigured board that figures to support charter schools more strongly takes over this month. It may alter some priorities or contemplate a shift to new leadership.

Here are some issues to consider going forward:


Will King have to change what she is trying to do?

Some of her strategic goals are aspirational — and hard to argue with: 100% graduation and 100% of students meeting entrance requirements for a four-year state college.

But newly elected board member Nick Melvoin has maintained that L.A. Unified is moving too slowly in improving academic markers such as test scores. He’s just one vote, but he and his backers could pressure the district to speed up its progress.

King also has pushed to siphon off enrollment from charter schools and into traditional campuses — or at least stanch the steady flow moving in the opposite direction.

Charters are privately managed public schools that function like nonprofits within L.A. Unified. Their growth to about 16% of district enrollment means that public funding for these students also is leaving the district.

Increasing L.A. Unified enrollment would help ease long-term budget problems. The new board majority, however, may move to increase the number of charters — fundamentally shifting the future course of the nation’s second-largest school system.

Charter-backed candidates win L.A. Unified majority, but can they lead from within? »

Besides charter schools, where might the new board members focus their attention?

Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, who also was backed by charter forces, have expressed concerns about the validity of the district’s rapidly rising graduation rate.

Students at Harris Newmark High School work to earn credits outside their traditional high school programs in 2016.
Students at Harris Newmark High School work to earn credits outside their traditional high school programs in 2016. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

The improvement is due in large measure to a strategy known as “credit-recovery” — compressed course work that gives students the opportunity to pull their grades up to passing. Board members, unwilling to risk undermining the rising diploma numbers, have not pressed for a deep review of whether such programs are academically rigorous and immune from cheating or gaming the system.

Nor did King seek answers.

Nick Melvoin
Nick Melvoin (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

But Melvoin and Gonez may push to examine credit-recovery options. An analogous situation occurred four years ago, when newly arrived board member Monica Ratliff showed no hesitation in investigating the district’s iPads-for-all program, in part, perhaps, because the vote to approve it happened before her arrival.

What’s ahead for the teachers union?

United Teachers Los Angeles endorsed candidates who were defeated in the recent school board election. Now the union is looking to reestablish its political influence.

There have been rumblings of a strike. But the union will need to weigh how hard to push its salary demands. And all the unions with district employees must weigh whether they are willing to make concessions on health and retiree benefits to ease long-term budget woes.

The school board could view contentious labor relations — or a failure to achieve money-saving concessions from labor — as part of a case against King. And the teachers union is concerned about whom the board would choose to replace the superintendent, whom they’ve generally liked dealing with.

How secure is King’s job?

The Board of Education can buy her out with as little as 90 days’ severance, but it seems unlikely that would happen unless there were a crisis that members blamed on King.

But if Melvoin believes L.A. Unified is doing as badly as he claimed during the campaign, he could make an argument against the ultimate district insider. King has spent her entire career in L.A. Unified and held the No. 2 job under the two previous superintendents.

So far, L.A. schools Supt. Michelle King has won plaudits from board members, including Scott Schmerelson, left, who is staying, and Steve Zimmer, right, who is leaving.
So far, L.A. schools Supt. Michelle King has won plaudits from board members, including Scott Schmerelson, left, who is staying, and Steve Zimmer, right, who is leaving. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Still, the 6-1 vote to extend King’s contract suggests that she has been fairly successful in managing board personalities and agendas. She works behind the scenes to craft compromises. She’s also made it a practice to seek out members who express displeasure about an administrative proposal or action in public meetings — both talking to and listening to them.

Kelly Gonez
Kelly Gonez (Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

Melvoin has said the new board should revisit King’s status, although he’s never called for her to be removed. Gonez declined to comment on the contract extension. The only board member who voted against King’s contract extension, Monica Garcia, said at the time that while she had “confidence” in King, the decision should have been left to the new board.

Support our journalism

Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.

howard.blume@latimes.com

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
67°