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L.A. board members will interview 2 firms to help them find a schools chief

The Los Angeles Board of Education held a private retreat Sunday to discuss the next superintendent of schools and ended up picking two executive search firms to interview.

The meeting was set up mostly as a closed-door discussion, but there was one item on which the board could have acted: giving a contract to a firm for a nationwide search for a new leader.

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Five firms have applied for the job and all remain in the running. After its closed session Sunday afternoon, the board voted to pick two firms initially to interview, in public, as early as Tuesday's regularly scheduled board meeting.

The two companies are La Quinta-based Leadership Associates and Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of Rosemont, Ill. The board initially, and swiftly, settled on Hazard. But the choice of Leadership prompted some disagreement, and the company got a go-ahead with a narrow four-vote majority.

The other firms are: Hamilton, Rabinovitz & Associates of Carmel; McPherson & Jacobson of Omaha, and Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

School board President Steve Zimmer said the board needed to pick a search firm no later than Sept. 15 and preferably sooner. The board has set aside as much as $250,000 plus expenses for the contract.

Hiring a schools chief is one of the most important duties of an elected board of education. The vast majority of district workers report to the superintendent; the superintendent reports to the seven-member school board.

"I think we had a chance to talk," said board member Richard Vladovic. He said the board discussed how Supt. Ramon C. Cortines had handled the job, "and talked a lot with Ray about how he's doing. I feel very good."

Zimmer said the public would have ample opportunity for input over the course of the lengthy selection process.

"This was an important beginning to our process," Zimmer said.

Board member Monica Garcia was absent-mindedly rolling a pair of dice as the meeting ended.

"High stakes in the superintendent selection," she joked to a reporter.

She added that Cortines was a model public servant and provided a template for them to consider the next leader: "I think the board was successful today in organizing its intentions."

Board member Monica Ratliff called the gathering a helpful bonding experience over a crucial task.

Board members have promised a transparent search for the next superintendent of schools. But the process began with the closed meeting.

Although the rare weekend gathering was designed to be a private retreat, under state law a gathering of a board majority is considered an official meeting, which must convene and conclude in public.

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The listed address for the meeting, at the Point Fermin Outdoor Education Center in San Pedro, took visitors to a district-owned complex that includes a mammal-viewing area. But the Board of Education was not to be found there—nor were there instructions on how to locate them from that point.

Board members had migrated up the hill, a winding drive away, to a location that they apparently were familiar with--so neither they nor other district staff members spotted the issue with the address. Two members of the public and two reporters found the location, which was marked with a green sheet of paper on a fence and a small poster on a stand.

The number of school police officers—at least four—outnumbered the members of the public with sufficient interest and perseverance.

Cortines, 83, came out of retirement to take the top job last October after John Deasy resigned under pressure. Cortines has said he would prefer to leave by the end of this year, but has not set a firm deadline. His contract runs through June 2016, and board members have praised his performance.

Also present was general counsel David Holmquist, who said his duties included making sure the board does not discuss matters in private that should be undertaken in public. On Friday, he declined to say what advice he'd given the board on how to separate the public and private discussion.

The board met for about four-and-a-half hours in private, then held an open session that lasted about 20 minutes.

Twitter: @howardblume

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