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Romer Aims to Leave Post by Fall

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Schools Supt. Roy Romer has told the Board of Education he wants to leave his post by this fall, about nine months before his contract expires, officials said Friday.

The announcement, which comes after months of increasing tension between Romer and board members, signals a distinct change of heart for the superintendent, who in the past has voiced his intention to serve the full term of his contract.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Feb. 23, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 23, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
Roy Romer -- An article in the Feb. 11 California section about Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer’s announcement that he intended to leave his post before the end of his contract said that the school board did not pass a resolution calling on Romer to hire more minority administrators. The board approved an amended version of the resolution, one less critical of Romer.

His desire to leave early comes as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa continues to harshly criticize district leaders and pursue his plans to take control of the school system from the elected board.

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At a closed-door meeting a few weeks ago, Romer, 77, told the seven-member board “that he would like them to find his replacement by September or October, but that he would certainly stay until an appropriate replacement is found,” said Stephanie Brady, communications director for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Brady declined to speculate on Romer’s reasons for wanting to leave. Romer, who is on vacation, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Board members emphasized that Romer said he would not depart until a new superintendent was hired to run the 727,000-student system.

“He said he would stay as long as needed until we found exactly who we wanted,” said board President Marlene Canter, a strong Romer ally. “He said he’d work every single day as long as he’s here.”

Board member David Tokofsky echoed Canter, saying, “He’s still awake and at work more than most of us.”

The board has yet to hire a firm to run the search for Romer’s successor. Tokofsky said an “ambitious pace” would be needed to find someone as soon as September.

Canter added that the search was not being accelerated or driven by anything Romer told the board. “We always intended to begin the search now. What Roy Romer said to us is that if and when we find someone, he would be willing to leave.”

Romer, a former governor of Colorado and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was hired in 2000. In 2004, the board extended his contract until the end of June 2007. In September, Romer and the board let pass an option that would have allowed him to opt out of the last year of the contract.

At the time, Romer said, “This board has a lot of strong and different opinions. We will continue to have a lot of exchanges at times, but we will continue going down the road.... I’ve got a lot of work left to do.”

But recently, he has grown increasingly exasperated with board members and weary of defending the district against the mayor’s attacks.

Villaraigosa’s repeated labeling of the district as “failing” and use of controversial dropout statistics to justify his takeover plans have irked Romer. At Romer’s request, the two met last month to give the superintendent a chance to highlight the district’s rising test scores and other accomplishments.

Villaraigosa reacted coolly to the pitch, and has not backed down from his takeover rhetoric.

And, at a public board meeting last month, Romer grew visibly upset when panel member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte tried unsuccessfully to pass a resolution that, in part, accused him of not doing enough to promote African American administrators to senior positions.

Romer’s legacy will center on his leadership of the district’s massive $19-billion school construction and repair project. By 2012, the district plans to have opened about 160 campuses and modernized hundreds of others in an effort to relieve severe overcrowding in many schools. Romer is widely credited with rescuing the project when he was hired and bringing in a highly regarded team to keep it on track.

But even the construction project became a source of frustration. Romer had to fight to convince board members the time was right to place a fourth construction bond measure on the special election ballot last November. Ultimately, the board approved the bond campaign and voters vindicated Romer by approving it by a wide margin.

Romer also is overseeing the rebuilding of Belmont High School, which had become a symbol of bureaucratic bungling and mismanagement. And, he pushed for the controversial construction of schools on the site of the former Ambassador Hotel.

Despite improvements at the elementary level, the nation’s second-largest district still faces daunting problems in its middle and high schools, including high dropout rates and sluggish test scores.

Recently, several of Romer’s top aides have resigned. The head of the building program announced last month that he would leave in June, and Romer’s special assistant for political affairs left recently.

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he had called Romer to discuss his early departure but downplayed its significance.

“If he goes in September, he’s a little early; that’s all,” Duffy said. “Clearly, his legacy is the building of 160 schools and presiding over a district where test scores have gone up. He’s done some pretty incredible things.”


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