Los Angeles County Office of Education hires veteran educator as superintendent

When veteran educator Arturo Delgado takes over as the superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education next month, he will face a formidable challenge: charting a new course for an unheralded but powerful agency that has been hammered by budget cuts and faulted for failing to adequately educate the troubled and incarcerated youth it serves.

Delgado was chosen for the post by the county Board of Supervisors last week after a closed-door meeting. He was one of five finalists for the position that was vacated last August when Darline P. Robles retired amid controversies over the safety and academic progress of students in detention facilities.

In November, the county settled a federal class-action lawsuit that calls for sweeping reforms at one of the largest facilities, Camp Challenger in Lancaster.


The agency controls a $700-million state-funded budget, offers support services — and must approve budgets — for 80 kindergarten-through-12th-grade school districts and provides classroom instruction annually for 27,000 students, including young offenders in juvenile halls and probation camps and students in the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and other specialized schools.

“I think I bring to the county the ability to build relationships and I hope to extend my hand to organizations and talk to them and hear what they have to say,” Delgado, 59, said in an interview. “It’s going to be challenging. Decisions have to be made, and I hope to make the kind of budget cuts that stay away from kids. Our priorities have to respect our mission statement of providing the best education we can.”

Supervisors said they were impressed by Delgado’s energetic management style during his 12 years as superintendent of the San Bernardino City Unified School District, his embrace of innovative ideas and his willingness to engage teachers and other stakeholders while holding all accountable.

“The main priority is to get education programs in juvenile halls and probation camps at the level they deserve to be,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “We’re counting on Dr. Delgado to bring that hands-on commitment he expressed in his interview, his written materials and his experiences to bear, because these kids are not getting a quality education.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said Delgado plans to examine successful detention programs in Houston, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere to find solutions to Los Angeles County’s failings.

“He showed an aptitude about probation and a willingness to take a risk,” Ridley-Thomas said. “We need to have someone go in there and take the bull by the horns.”

In San Bernardino, Delgado oversees the county’s largest school district, with 68 schools and a $425-million operating budget. He has faced some setbacks, including a losing election run last year for San Bernardino County schools superintendent.

Eleven of his district’s schools were listed by the California Department of Education in 2010 as among the lowest-achieving in the state.

An ongoing jurisdictional dispute with the school district’s Personnel Commission over the hiring of some employees has left hundreds of classified positions unfilled, resulting in a recent lawsuit.

“He is a consummate professional, but we haven’t had the relationship we hoped we would have with the superintendent when it comes to building the bridges necessary to work cooperatively,” said Charlie LaChance, labor relations representative of the local California School Employees Assn., which filed the suit against the district.

Delgado has won mixed reviews from teachers, with some resisting his efforts to adopt bilingual and dual language programs for native as well as nonnative English speakers and to put all students on a college-bound track, said Rebecca Harper, president of the San Bernardino Teachers Assn.

Delgado has earned praise for bringing together administrators, teachers, community members and business leaders who meet regularly to improve results at underperforming schools. All of the schools won federal school improvement grants, and test scores in the district have increased while drop-out rates have decreased, Harper said.

“He’s willing to go out to school sites, look at classrooms, talk to teachers and administrators and not just sit in an office behind closed doors,” Harper said. “He does have a heart for kids and students that have been disadvantaged because of poverty or ethnicity that will help him in Los Angeles.”

Delgado, who graduated from Montebello High School, grew up in East Los Angeles as one of seven children of a father who was a sandblaster at a steel factory and a mother who cleaned houses, among other jobs. He says he learned the value of hard work from them.

Supervisors must still approve Delgado’s contract; he takes over July 1. The county Board of Education will set his salary and benefits.