LONG BEACH — After shepherding the school district here through seven of its most tumultuous years, Supt. Francis Laufenberg announced Monday that he will retire June 28.
Although the announcement confirmed rumors that have circulated in the school district for several months, Laufenberg's impending retirement still surprised many school officials.
In a letter to the Board of Education, the 64-year-old superintendent asked to be released from the last two years of his four-year contract, which will expire June, 1987.
"I believe our house is in order and the district is in very good health as we observe its 100th year of serving children," said the resignation letter, which was read by trustee Arlene Solomon during her regular personnel report to the board.
"I hereby respectfully request that I be released from the remainder of my current contract in order to retire," it said.
The board voted unanimously to accept Laufenberg's resignation. He is paid $77,000 a year and is retiring after 37 years in education, 25 of which were spent in Long Beach.
"When we received the letter we were very surprised," said Harriet Williams, school board president. "I asked him if he really thinks this is the time to leave, and he said he thought it was a good time to hand the district over. He feels good about the district and its financial stability."
According to Williams, the school board should begin its quest for a new superintendent April 8, after spring break. At that time, she said, the board will probably chose an executive search firm to begin a nationwide hunt for Laufenberg's successor.
If a replacement cannot be found by June, Williams said, an interim superintendent will be named until the search has been completed.
Laufenberg joined the Long Beach Unified School District as budget director in 1960. During the following 18 years, he moved up through the administrative ranks to become assistant superintendent, associate superintendent and deputy superintendent.
He was chosen as superintendent in 1978 at a time of great turmoil in the Long Beach schools.
Then-superintendent Vernon Hinze resigned because of "serious differences" with the board.
In addition, three veteran trustees had agreed to leave the school board to serve on the newly formed Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees, leaving three vacancies on the five-member Board of Education.
But perhaps the greatest disruption was tax-cutting initiative Proposition 13, which threatened wholesale teacher layoffs and program cuts.
"He is an excellent superintendent," said veteran board member James P. Zarifes. "He came at a time when we needed someone just like him. He's very organized, very structured. Fiscally, he's always run a stable, balanced ship.
"He's been able to foresee things well in advance, and I think we're in better shape moneywise because of him."
Williams and Zarifes, who have often taken differing viewpoints on school district issues, both agreed that Laufenberg's stability and business sense led the district through some very hard times.
'Much More Difficult'
"Before Prop. 13, if we needed money for the schools, we just had to go to the community and ask for a tax override," Williams said. "But now we are dependent on the state for our money, and it has been much more difficult.
"We have to do everything by lobbying, and we have no long-term funding. Lauf seems to have been up to the challenge."
Laufenberg is also credited with engineering the district's voluntary desegregation program and with helping to accommodate the drastically changing student population--from white, upper-middle-class children to a high percentage of non- and limited-English-speaking youngsters.
"Our voluntary desegregation program is one of his major accomplishments," Zarifes said. "We've stayed out of court. We've stayed out of forced busing."
Laufenberg critics have had two major complaints about the veteran administrator during his reign as superintendent: that he is sometimes too business oriented and that he is not communicative enough.
"He's very business oriented," said Don Goddard, president of the Teachers Assn. of Long Beach. "I always had the feeling that his primary concern was more finances than curriculum."
Lack of Color
And Williams contends that Laufenberg's lack of color and communication skills were just what the voters asked for.
"He seems to be the kind of person that Long Beach has voted in for a long time," she said. "He's low key, not very flamboyant, not very colorful, but he is responsible."
Laufenberg could not be reached for comment.
District spokesman Richard Van Der Laan said that the superintendent was waiting to leave until the district received its long-promised $5.2 million from the state to cover past desegregation costs.
The money arrived in February, after two years of work by the district to get paid for the costs of integrating the 79-school, 62,000-student district.
"Getting the desegregation money was a major breakthrough that put the district on better financial footing," Van Der Laan said. "He didn't want to leave before he was assured that we had it.
"And what's he going to do now? I think he's just going to sail his boat."