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Michelle King will head L.A. schools as the search for a superintendent continues

Ten days after Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines quietly slipped out of the district, his deputy, Michelle King, is assuming the role until a permanent successor is selected, officials said.

The Board of Education had hoped to announce a new superintendent Saturday, but emerged from a closed door, 13-hour session with nothing settled.

Although the board took no official action, King will serve as superintendent because she was the No. 2 administrator under Cortines, said district general counsel David Holmquist.

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King is a candidate for the top job, but there is no indication that her provisional promotion is either an endorsement or a sign that she's out of the running.

Besides King, educators who are under consideration or who have been recruited include Fremont Unified Supt. Jim Morris, a longtime L.A. Unified senior administrator; San Francisco Supt. Richard Carranza; and Miami-Dade County Supt. Alberto Carvalho, who has said publicly that he did not want the L.A. job.

Other individuals have been under serious consideration as well.

The school board has scheduled another meeting on the selection of a superintendent for Jan. 5.

Late Saturday evening, after the meeting adjourned, board President Steve Zimmer offered an upbeat view of the search process.

"The board is absolutely on track, working extremely hard, and I am confident that we will be able to reach a decision within the first month of the school year," Zimmer said. "And the conversations are absolutely appropriate to the weight and significance of the decision.

"I am very proud of this board. Every one has brought their best selves and kept their best selves even through these marathon sessions."

The board has held four lengthy meetings over the last seven days as it tried to make its most important hire.

The choice of King, 54, to step in temporarily was no surprise; she'd already become acting superintendent on Dec. 11, when Cortines unofficially stepped aside. Cortines returned to duty three days later, however, when district officials received a terrorist threat. The threat prompted the cancellation of school for 640,000 students Tuesday, but turned out to be a false alarm.

Cortines said in an interview last week that King, as acting superintendent, had the authority to cancel schools, but that it also was reasonable to bring him back to manage the crisis.

King did not respond to questions about the handling of the incident, but she was one of three senior district leaders who had dealt with the situation early on, along with school district police chief Steven Zipperman and Zimmer, who received the email threat at 10 p.m. Monday.

When it became clear that local and federal law enforcement officials were neither going to take charge nor give unequivocal guidance, Cortines was called at 5 a.m. He said that it would be unfair to criticize his L.A. Unified colleagues, but that he wished he'd been alerted sooner or perhaps not at all.

Cortines also said he was comfortable with his actions even though the threat proved a hoax.

With his retirement about to take full effect, the district needs to establish a clear chain of command, said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

"If they're not ready yet to name a permanent replacement, the events of Tuesday morning made it clear that there is at least a strong need to put an interim superintendent in place," Schnur said.

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King has experience serving for short periods as acting superintendent, especially when she worked under Cortines' predecessor, John Deasy, who frequently went out of town for conferences and meetings.

Last week, she oversaw the staff presentation at a board meeting over a sensitive topic: the temporary closing of two schools because of a natural gas leak in the northwest San Fernando Valley.

In April 2014, she oversaw the early hours of the district's emergency response when a bus carrying students on a college visit crashed in Orland, killing 10, including one L.A. Unified student. Other district students were injured.

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on December 21, 2015, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Acting L.A. schools chief is named as search continues - The district's No. 2 official, Michelle King, is a candidate for the top job." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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