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L.A. school board will meet privately to discuss superintendent search

L.A. school board will meet privately to discuss superintendent search
Los Angeles school board PresidentSteve Zimmer, fourth from right, and other board members listen as schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines delivers his annual welcoming speech at Garfield High School this month. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Board of Education is holding an unusual closed-door meeting Sunday to discuss the type of leader they are seeking in the next superintendent of schools and how to go about finding that person.

Most of the meeting is structured as a private retreat at the Point Fermin Outdoor Education Center in San Pedro, which is owned by the L.A. Unified School District.

The board has also scheduled a vote in public on hiring a firm to conduct a superintendent search. That decision could be postponed to a later meeting, district officials said.

"Most of the time on Sunday we're going to be talking about our goals and the superintendent selection process," board member Richard Vladovic said. "We need to set our own direction and decide what we want before we start the selection process."

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The private gathering could be a violation of the state's open-meeting rules, said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

"If they're really going to be spending time talking more generally about the qualities of the next superintendent and different ways of conducting a search to find a candidate who fits those criteria, those are exactly the kinds of discussions that are completely inappropriate for closed session," Scheer said. "That is why you have public meetings."

Vladovic said district legal counsel has said the discussion can be conducted in private provided it is generally structured as related to the evaluation of the current superintendent. Employee evaluations can be conducted in private.

L.A. Unified General Counsel David Holmquist said he would attend the meeting to ensure that board members discuss only confidential matters outside of public view. He declined to say what could or could not be discussed, and he would not divulge what advice he gave to board members on the matter. Such advice is confidential, he said.

Board President Steve Zimmer and other members have said they want a selection process that is as publicly transparent as possible.

"There will be no lack of public process around this search throughout the fall," Zimmer said. "I don't think board members needing time to be able to ask sensitive and critical questions as we begin portends any type of secrecy that's going to shroud this process at all."

At the same time, "ultimately, this is a personnel decision," which has confidential elements, Zimmer said.

Five firms submitted proposals to lead the search: La Quinta-based Leadership Associates; Hamilton, Rabinovitz & Associates of Carmel; Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of Rosemont, Ill.; McPherson & Jacobson of Omaha; and Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The firm would be paid up to $250,000 plus expenses.

Participating in the private discussion will be Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who came out of retirement to take the top job in October after John Deasy resigned under pressure.

The board almost never meets on weekends. Its regular meeting is Tuesday.

L.A. Unified has chosen its most recent superintendents through a variety of methods. A group of civic leaders pressured board members in private to hire Deasy, who was brought in initially as the top deputy superintendent for the 2010-11 school year. He took over the top job in April 2011. No other candidate was seriously considered.

Twitter: @howardblume 

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