By next week, names for his replacement will begin to flow with a list of candidates that could include such well-regarded figures from across the county as Rudy Crew, a former Chancellor of New York City schools; Alberto M. Carvalho, Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools; Valeria Silva, superintendent of St. Paul’s public schools; and Richard Carranza, superintendent of schools in San Francisco.
No doubt all of them have fine resumes.
But in thinking about what awaits the next occupant of Cortines’s 24th floor office, one might wonder if an outsider with little knowledge of the district would necessarily make the best choice for LA Unified, given the issues at hand. Never mind the larger question, why would anyone even want the job. Consider the current state of affairs:
- An independent financial review panel just reported that the district is facing deficits that could reach $600 million within four years.
- The district is hemorrhaging students, nearly three percent a year, costing hundreds of thousands in lost state and federal revenues.
- Pressure is mounting on the district to reduce health care benefits and increase employee pension contribution, already triggering union opposition.
- Academic performance across the district was abysmal, judging by the most recent statewide tests.
- The charter war within the district is intensifying, with a plan by outsiders to create hundreds more charter schools to serve as many as half the district enrollment.
- The seven members of the elected school board, who serve as the superintendent’s bosses, are hard-pressed to agree on what day it is, let alone on how to solve intractable problems.
No doubt, the winning candidate would convince all or most of the board members that the challenges are not insurmountable. Pay and benefits are not likely to be issues. The winner can expect a deal worth upwards of $300,000 a year with lots of perqs.
But here’s the thing. The learning curve to run a district of this size and complexity is long and steep even in normal times, with uncountable numbers of students, teachers, assistants, deputies, administrators, schools, labor leaders, political operatives, state officials — and issues: Difficult, politically-charged, financially-challenged, board-polarizing issues.