Civic group asks for outside committee on L.A. superintendent search

A group of civic leaders has privately urged the Los Angeles Board of Education to appoint an outside committee to assist with or even lead the search process for a superintendent of schools.

Their early efforts culminated in a noon lunchtime meeting on Aug. 19 at the City Club, on the 51st floor of a downtown skyscraper.

The unofficial delegation met with school board President Steve Zimmer, who did not commit to the idea but said he would put the matter before the full board. So far, the board has not taken action on the proposal.

"Having a broader external committee would be a good addition to the process," said Elise Buik, president and chief executive of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

Such a committee would not only provide valuable assistance to the board but also result in broader buy-in to the selection process and support for the eventual person chosen, she said.

Buik said she envisions a search committee that would include representatives of students, teachers, community groups, the business sector and civil rights organizations.

At the meeting with her were: Antonia Hernandez, head of the nonprofit California Community Foundation; Ed Avila, a former city official and leader of the downtown revitalization group Project Restore; Monica Lozano, a University of California regent and publisher of the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión; Nolan V. Rollins, leader of the Los Angeles Urban League; Gary L. Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce; and George Kieffer, a partner in the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and also a UC regent.

Kieffer also heads the Civic Alliance, a coalition of groups that has worked with and tried to influence L.A. Unified. The group strongly backed former Supt. John Deasy, who resigned under pressure a year ago after losing the confidence of a majority on the Board of Education.

The individuals meeting with Zimmer were doing so in their role with Civic Alliance.

If the board favored a committee, said Buik, she would like one that could screen potential candidates and present the board a small list of finalists.

Kieffer said a search committee could take a variety of forms.

“Anything that would be done would be up to the board,” Kieffer said. “It’s done different ways in different searches. But I think that the more different kinds of folks they could have on a search or advisory committee, the stronger their selection process would be.”

The Board of Education chose Deasy without considering other candidates after a brief trial period during which he served as deputy to then-Supt. Ramon C. Cortines. At the time, key local leaders, including some within the Civic Alliance, pressured the board to choose Deasy without a search.

Cortines returned from retirement when Deasy left but would like to hand over the office to a successor by the end of the year.

The school board recently hired an executive search firm to assist with the process.

Zimmer characterized the City Club meeting as “very positive.”

“It was a very open and frank conversation, and an important conversation, and I hope they will invite me to meet with them again soon,” he said. “I think their voice is an important voice in the process.”

Other groups also are weighing in. The influential teachers union, for example, would like the finalists to be announced publicly.

“We would like to see a process where the finalists would come in front of parents, students and educators,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. “We want to make sure that parents, students and educators have an opportunity to weigh in during the superintendent search.”

The search firm has recommended a confidential selection process, saying it would yield a stronger field of applicants.

Twitter: @howardblume

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