LAUSD Consumes Another One : Supt. Sid Thompson plans to retire next year

Sid Thompson will retire in June next year as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest. His challenges have been legion and intractable: a political school board, a powerful teachers union, soaring enrollment, increasingly poor students, a massive bilingual population and pervasive overcrowding. Problems like these complicate the primary mission of educating children.

Originally a math teacher, Thompson understands the numbers. When he took the job three years ago, he sat up nights worrying that the district would go bankrupt. Only a 10% pay cut for teachers and salary reductions for other employees averted that fiscal nightmare. The finances have improved slightly since then, but the district still lacks the funds to build the schools needed for its ballooning enrollment, expected to top 657,500 next year. There isn’t even enough money for new textbooks and computers or adequate maintenance of campuses.

Public confidence, in decline since court-ordered busing ignited white flight 20 years ago, has been further shattered by abysmal results on student achievement tests.


This is not the same school system Thompson, 64, joined when he got out of the Navy 40 years ago. Back then, school began in September and ended in June. There were no year-round calendars necessitated by overcrowding, no hourlong bus rides needed to transport children from crammed neighborhood schools to vacant seats far from home. Back then, well before Proposition 13 hamstrung public school financing, new schools were being completed every month under the district’s expansion plan.

Those days are gone. The best efforts of Thompson, the district’s first African American superintendent, could not bring them back. The fourth superintendent in a decade, he deserves credit for his fiscal management, supporting the LEARN reforms, getting the teachers to agree to a 3-year contract and stiffening high school courses. The next superintendent will need to deal with the obvious, particularly bilingual education in this increasingly linguistically diverse district. But the biggest challenge in this district remains improving academic achievement.