The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to pay at least $517,500 to buy out Supt. David L. Brewer midway through his four-year contract to run the nation’s second-largest school system.
No successor was named, but board members and other civic leaders have said they expect that the No. 2 administrator, Ramon C. Cortines, will be offered the job at least on an interim basis.
Brewer, 62, said he would stay at the helm of the Los Angeles Unified School District through the end of the month.
Cortines, a retired superintendent who joined the district in April, declined to comment on who would succeed Brewer, saying he intends to focus on his current job.
“I came here to help,” he said. “I’m still here to help.” But he added that board members need to clarify leadership roles quickly because of the current massive budget crisis: “I’ve made it clear. With the kind of budget issues we are facing and the change of superintendents, everything we can do to have stability in this system is very important.”
The week began with Brewer’s announcement Monday that he would be willing to accept a buyout, one week after Board of Education President Monica Garcia made it clear she would seek to replace him.
Because the board terminated Brewer “without cause,” he’s entitled to receive a buyout specified under his contract. The terms under the contract are 18 months’ salary, totaling $450,000, and his expense account over that period, which adds $67,500. He’ll also get cash for unused vacation pay, an amount not yet calculated. Finally, he’ll be eligible for health benefits during the period covered by the buyout.
In a brief appearance before reporters, Garcia took no questions and read from a statement that echoed the concerns of Cortines. She vowed to develop a “leadership plan,” adding, “We understand that we need stability.”
Speaking in English and Spanish, she said she expects a decision regarding the district’s top administrator before year’s end. Cortines said his understanding is that the board will act Dec. 16.
Five of seven board members approved the settlement: Garcia, Yolie Flores Aguilar, Marlene Canter, Tamar Galatzan and Richard Vladovic. Voting against were Julie Korenstein and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte.
Board members said they discussed Brewer’s settlement privately for two hours in a morning meeting that sometimes became contentious.
When it was over, Brewer presided, as usual, over the ensuing public meeting, sitting next to Garcia.
Aside from Canter, the board members who favored the buyout are considered allies of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Of the mayor’s bloc, Flores Aguilar, Galatzan and Vladovic were elected in 2007 with crucial fundraising assistance from the mayor. Villaraigosa said last week that he, too, favored a change in leadership but that he would support the board’s decision.
Korenstein called the buyout an inappropriate “gift of public funds” that is especially galling given the budget crisis. She blamed the board majority, not Brewer, for the settlement, saying that she would have preferred Brewer to remain in his current role, splitting executive duties with Cortines.
LaMotte also had endorsed that tandem arrangement but said that she would not necessarily oppose a buyout, provided that Brewer’s rights were respected.
Since joining the district eight months ago, Cortines has managed day-to-day operations as well as long-term planning, while Brewer has focused on lobbying efforts, school board meetings and serving as the public face of L.A. Unified. At Tuesday’s meeting, Brewer noted that he plans to travel to Sacramento this week to lobby lawmakers for relief from money woes that he characterized as the worst since 1929.
“This is bad. This is ugly,” he said. “We have to fix this.”
In a brief statement regarding the buyout, Brewer said: “No matter what happens next, I will remain a champion for the children, teachers and staff of LAUSD.”
A week ago, the retired Navy vice admiral, who is African American, vowed to serve until the last minute of his last day, implying that he intended to fight to keep his job. At the same time, some black leaders said the move against him was abrupt and unfair.
In announcing Monday his intention to step down, Brewer said he recognized that the controversy over his removal had the potential to exacerbate racial tensions in the city. His departure, he added, should not be viewed through a racial prism, although he accused his opponents of pursuing political agendas to the detriment of children.
Garcia and other critics of Brewer have said the superintendent has moved neither fast enough nor effectively enough to improve the school system. Brewer has pointed out that district gains on test scores this year well outpaced the state’s as a whole and that voters last month approved the district’s largest bond issue ever.
The payout to Brewer has brought to light the board’s inability to create performance goals for him. Deciding on appropriate, measurable objectives for a superintendent is difficult even in the best of circumstances, said veteran educators, including Cortines.
But in Brewer’s case, uncertainties loomed over the process. With no experience in education, Brewer had to deal with goal-setting in an unfamiliar arena, and he was unsure to whom he would ultimately answer. When he was hired, most members of the board were at odds with Villaraigosa. But that wasn’t the case for the board majority that took over eight months into his term. And Brewer never won over those members.
In an interview last week, Brewer said that some of the goals they suggested were unrealistic.
Instead of getting to mutually agreed-upon objectives, the new board approved instead a series of lengthy public resolutions to guide, or control, the superintendent.
The school district might have been on the hook for a settlement regardless, said former district general counsel Kevin Reed, who worked for the school system when Brewer was hired. Terminations “for cause,” which don’t require buyouts, typically involve malfeasance or violations of law.
Still, “he’s been in this position for two years,” said Priscilla Wohlstetter, a professor at the USC Rossier School of Education. “It’s in everyone’s best interests to have clear expectations.”