Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has set no hard deadline for his departure, but wants the Board of Education to move forward with a search for his successor, ideally by the end of the year.
At Tuesday's board meeting, Cortines, 82, had mentioned that he may leave in six months, but members quickly brushed aside his comment. The topic did not come up again.
On Wednesday, district officials made clear that he hadn't set a time frame for his exit.
Cortines returned from retirement last October after his predecessor, John Deasy, resigned under pressure.
At the request of the school board, Cortines had agreed to a contract through June 2016. The board has hoped that Cortines, who turns 83 in July, would be willing to stay until a successor could take charge.
L.A. school board President Richard Vladovic said that Cortines has, for at least the last two months, quietly talked about retiring by December.
"Ray wants to leave a legacy of success and I think he's feeling he's getting there," Vladovic said. "December 31 may be his last day. I tend to think we'll keep him until the process for choosing a new superintendent is completed, unless his health becomes an issue."
Cortines, a fitness fanatic also known for a punishing work ethic, has discussed feeling exhausted by the job, which has included managing several difficult situations, including contract negotiations that averted a possible teachers strike. He also dealt with a new and faulty student records system, known by the acronym MISIS, and the fallout from an abandoned effort to provide every student, teacher and campus administrator with an iPad.
"I think Ray wants to get MISIS fixed, the iPads fixed," Vladovic said. "He said, 'I'm tired.' I think he'll leave when he thinks everything's on an even keel and it's not there yet.
Cortines' future came up because of Cortines himself. During budget discussions at Tuesday's meeting, the superintendent went off script from his talking points and indicated he was likely to stay six more months. He also broke down, unable to continue his remarks, apparently disappointed that the district did not avoid hundreds of layoffs.
Vladovic jumped in: "The one thing I'm going to forget is that six months. We're not going to discuss it at this time."
Vladovic quipped that he'd put in "16 years," not six months, as the amount of time Cortines would remain, and that Cortines had misread the text.
Nearly all the board members spoke about the painful layoffs, which are expected to affect hundreds of employees.
Board member George McKenna felt compelled to defend Cortines' fitness: "Physically he's in better shape than half of you out there."
"Superintendent, you're great," board member Bennett Kayser said.
Interviewed later, McKenna said it was significant that Cortines chose to make a public statement about something he'd been telling the board in private: that the district needed to move forward expeditiously with picking a successor.
"He surprised me when he said it" at the board meeting, McKenna said. "I think he's thought about it, and I think we need, as a board, to take him seriously at his word. Whether he's given us a hard deadline, I don't know. We've tried to persuade him to stay through the school year, but that may not happen, and, if it doesn't, we need to be prepared."