Man for the moment
Maybe he’s the mayor’s man. Maybe his popularity and his connections make him seem a threat to the superintendent. Forget all that. Ramon C. Cortines is what the Los Angeles Unified School District needs for the No. 2 management spot.
We and others initially resisted leaning on Supt. David L. Brewer (Cortines had said he wouldn’t take the job if anyone was pressured), but it was obvious that Brewer needed to hire the well-regarded former L.A. Unified superintendent, who has the deep knowledge of the district, of curriculum and of the California education scene that Brewer lacks. Fortunately, Brewer saw that too, and now that Cortines is returning, we’d like to see him place high on his agenda the strengthening of the mini-districts he created when he was interim superintendent. They have the potential to improve the district’s effectiveness, if finally allowed to work.
One of L.A. Unified’s biggest problems remains its flabby, unresponsive central bureaucracy. The district is still enmeshed in the fallout from its malfunctioning payroll system. Teachers tear their hair out in frustration while school turnaround plans languish in headquarters. The schools need swifter, smarter management -- the kind they could get if the nine mini-districts ran as true administrative offices instead of as another layer of the central bureaucracy.
Brewer didn’t cause L.A. Unified’s problems, but his plodding responses to them have squandered the hopes of children and parents asked to wait while the district fumbles. Cortines’ connections make him a complicated choice -- he was, of course, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s education advisor, whereas Brewer was hired by the former school board, which fought off mayoral control -- but Brewer urgently needs quality guidance, and he could not continue to dawdle any longer in search of it. Having made this good call, the superintendent and Cortines now should immediately turn to the instructional and management changes that can transform the ailing district.