More changes expected at Los Angeles arts high school
Los Angeles school district officials are expected next week to name a high-profile East Coast arts education leader to head the flagship arts high school in downtown Los Angeles, a move that substantially involved billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, sources close to the decision told The Times.
The switch at the top is the latest in a series of controversies around the 2-year-old, $232-million showcase Grand Avenue campus.
Kim Bruno, currently head of the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City, the setting for the movie “Fame,” is expected to be the new principal; a contract has not yet been signed.
Her arrival could bring stature and valuable experience to the fledgling L.A. campus, but it also has resulted in the forced removal of the school’s current principal, continuing a revolving door of management.
The action comes as the Board of Education is poised to give a permanent name to L.A. Central High School No. 9, a sweeping metallic modern structure with a tower that looms over the Hollywood Freeway. Officials want to name the school after recently retired Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, one of the nation’s leading educators and a longtime patron of the arts who was instrumental in developing the high school.
Cortines said Wednesday he was humbled by the gesture but wasn’t sure he wants the honor.
Cortines objected to the removal of current Principal Luis Lopez, who is a candidate for a promotion, according to the district. Cortines also expressed concern that the decision to honor him wasn’t fully vetted with parents, community members and school staff. Both top-down moves might be violating the district’s commitment to run the school in collaboration with faculty and parents, he said.
“Dr. Lopez has done an outstanding job,” said Cortines, who retired in mid-April. “What is wrong with that school?”
The campus suffered rocky moments even before it opened in the fall of 2009. Two principals, including Bruno, tentatively accepted jobs, then backed out. Two executive directors also left. And the school had an initially shaky accreditation review. More recently, students led a protest over a dance teacher’s departure under pressure. Another long-standing dispute has been over whether students should have to audition for admission.
Currently, no audition is required and neighborhood students have an admission preference, a policy that troubled Broad, who was instrumental in advocating for the school’s construction. He has said he’d prefer the school to be run outside of district control.
A Broad spokeswoman said the education and arts benefactor has not been involved recently.
Documents obtained by The Times show a May 13 meeting with Bruno, new L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy and Gregory McGinity, the Broad Foundation’s managing director of policy.
Broad or his designees have played a frequent role in recruiting a leader for the campus, according to Cortines and others.
After Bruno turned down the job two years ago, she said in an email that “nothing in particular” had turned her off of Los Angeles and that she was fulfilled “personally and professionally” at LaGuardia. District sources involved in the negotiations said Bruno worried that the switch would limit her eventual retirement pension, among other issues.
At that time, said district sources, Broad had offered to pay the difference in annual salary between what Bruno could earn in L.A. versus New York, but that didn’t seal the deal.
But Broad apparently didn’t give up.
A year ago, senior officials decided to replace Suzanne Blake, the veteran district administrator picked by Cortines to open the school.
To fill the position, McGinity offered to help line up two previous applicants, Cortines said. Bruno would serve as principal and the other as executive director in charge of fundraising. The foundation would contribute $75,000 to each salary.
Cortines opted for Lopez, who had been the other top inside candidate previously.
In recent months, Broad has considered helping to pay for a number of Deasy’s initiatives, potentially increasing his leverage in the school system. It is unclear whether Broad would contribute to Bruno’s salary.
Bruno and Lopez could not be reached for comment.
Deasy said the district was not yet committed to any candidate to run the arts high school.
Lopez arrived amid campus unrest over the removal of his popular predecessor. Some were not won over and criticized his administrative style as detached.
At a Tuesday faculty meeting, an emotional Lopez announced his impeding departure in brief remarks that ended with a standing ovation in his honor.
“He was not happy about leaving,” said music teacher Christopher Rodriguez. “But he did not trash anyone. He was very professional. And he asked that everyone maintain a level of honesty and professionalism.”
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