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L.A. school board votes against appointing outside superintendent search committee

L.A. Unified consultant Hank Gmitro, standing, asks a group of parents, employees and community members what qualities they would like to see in the next schools superintendent.

L.A. Unified consultant Hank Gmitro, standing, asks a group of parents, employees and community members what qualities they would like to see in the next schools superintendent.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday voted against appointing an outside committee to guide its search for the next superintendent of schools.

The 5-2 vote leaves the selection process firmly in the hands of the school board.

L.A. Unified hopes to choose a new leader by the end of the year, when current Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who is 83, said he would like to step down. Cortines agreed to serve a year ago, when Supt. John Deasy resigned under pressure.

The board’s action brought out in public a discussion that already had taken place at least twice in closed session, including Tuesday.

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A group of civic leaders and local organizations had pressed the school board repeatedly to establish an independent, outside committee that would screen candidates or even winnow the field to two or three finalists.

Board member Monica Garcia brought a plan forward as soon as the board resumed the public portion of the meeting. She proposed that each of the seven members appoint a representative to a screening committee.

Ref Rodriguez seconded her motion.

Garcia’s move caught some by surprise--there was no advance notice of her proposal available to the public or to other board members.

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Monica Ratliff said she opposed Garcia’s idea, even though she had previously pushed unsuccessfully for a more open process.

“If we want to make this open, I think we should make this open to everyone,” she said. “It’s either open to everybody or nothing.”

She said she did not favor “some secret committee” getting to meet finalists in confidence.

Richard Vladovic said he agreed with Ratliff: The finalists should either be presented in public or just to the school board.

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“I feel it’s our job,” Vladovic said.

Garcia objected to the characterization of an outside group as “some secret committee.” The goal, she said, was to provide valuable input to the board. The committee itself would not be secret, but those involved would maintain the confidentiality of the search process, she said.

Garcia and Rodriguez seemed to know the motion would not pass.

“I want the public to know that we struggle in deciding how to move forward,” Garcia said. “I wanted to make sure the public is clear that there are differences on this board.”

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Among board members, Garcia is most closely allied with the groups and individuals calling for the outside committee. Rodriguez, who joined the board recently, benefited from their political support in his campaign for office.

Those calling for the outside committee included Elise Buik, chief executive of United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

If the district allowed a hiring committee to screen for finalists, “my belief is that we’re going to make a better decision,” Buik said. “It will unify the community around a decision. And I think candidates will be encouraged to apply when they see the diversity of people involved in the decision.”

Buik and others, part of the Civic Alliance group, made similar arguments at an Aug. 19 lunch with school board president Steve Zimmer. Then, earlier this month, a separate but overlapping group of local organizations reiterated the request in a letter to the board.

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Zimmer never committed to the idea, but had brought it before his colleagues in a previous closed session, during which a board majority decided against an outside committee without taking a formal vote.

On Tuesday, the five members voting in public against the outside committee were Zimmer, Vladovic, Ratliff, George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson.

Several board members have stated that one of their fundamental duties as elected officials is to choose a superintendent -- and that they intend to handle the process themselves. Privately, some said they were concerned that an outside committee might try to co-opt the process, leaving board members unable to determine whom they most wanted.

An executive search firm, meanwhile, already is accepting applications and recruiting candidates. And the same consulting team also is collecting public input through a series of community meetings.

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School board members expressed disappointment with the turnout at these forums and extended the comment period from Wednesday through Sunday of this week. District officials also will push to have high school students fill out surveys on the topic at school. Parents will be urged to stop by campuses and parent centers to do the same.

The United Way and other allied groups have not yet met with the consultants, Buik said.

District officials said they encourage all groups to submit input through the public process or in private meetings. The consultants expect to submit a report on community feedback by Nov. 10.

Organizations have varying ideas on the search process. The teachers union, for example, has called for making the identity of the finalists public.

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Ratliff tried to win support for that approach, but earlier this month the board voted against revealing the finalists by a tally of 4 to 3.

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume


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