The chief of the Los Angeles Unified School District should not be in the employ of a major outside vendor for his schools. It’s that simple. Supt. Ramon C. Cortines must relinquish his position with Scholastic Inc., and the school board should apply any pressure needed to make that happen.
Cortines has served for 15 years on the board of the publishing company, according to a recent report by Times staff writer Howard Blume. Since coming to work for the district in 2008, Cortines has earned more than $150,000 a year for serving on the board, while Scholastic has made $5.2 million in contracts with the district as its main supplier of reading intervention curricula.
No one should need a primer on why this is a disturbing situation. The reaction of school board President Monica Garcia -- “I don’t know what is interesting here” -- is dismaying. Here’s one thing we find interesting: The head of L.A. Unified -- a district with abysmal reading scores -- cannot involve himself in key decisions about reading intervention contracts for which Scholastic is competing.
Nor does it remove the conflict for Cortines to distance himself from the process. The people who make the contract decisions obviously want to please their superintendent. Cortines might not care whether they pick Scholastic, but how is the staff to be sure? It may seem to those making the decision that the safest bet is to pick the company with which their boss is entangled.
That’s not to impugn Cortines’ integrity or the quality of Scholastic’s products. (How could we not like the publisher that brought “Harry Potter” to America?) But the superintendent certainly should have made his connection with Scholastic clear in a very public way before accepting the job. Former board President Marlene Canter told Blume the board never examined Cortines’ outside employment when it appointed him to the job. It shouldn’t have had to. He should have gone out of his way to make the board aware of such a sizable potential conflict.
Cortines accepted a salary of $250,000 from the district, which is somewhat lower than the superintendent of such a large school district would normally receive, out of regard for the district’s disastrous finances. We would rather see L.A. Unified pay him a full salary to do his full job.