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No Vacation for New Chief of Beverly Hills Schools

July 12, 1987|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

Summer is usually a time when school officials take their vacations, but in Beverly Hills the new superintendent, Robert L. French, who has been on the job about two weeks, plans no break from his hectic pace.

French, 56, took over the administrative helm of the Beverly Hills Unified School District on July 1, replacing Leon Lessinger, who retired after six years with the district.

The new superintendent plans to spend the next few weeks meeting with parents, teachers, school administrators, board members, City Council members, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, the city manager, neighborhood groups and others in the community.

'Working the Whole Summer'

"I will be working the whole summer," said French, who came to Beverly Hills from the Piedmont Unified School District in Northern California, where he served as superintendent since 1983.

He also plans to "have a survey conducted to determine attitudes towards the school district" to give him a better understanding of the district's two immediate problems: shortage of funds and the failure to reach an agreement with teachers over a new salary contract.

"I'm very excited about working with him," said school board President Betty S. Wilson. "I like his approach to get to know what is going on the district and not to rush in before making any decisions. He wants to get a sense of the district first and come up with ways to work within the existing system."

At the time he was selected in a nationwide search from among 80 candidates, school officials said that one of the points in French's favor was the fact that the Piedmont district is in an affluent community with financial problems similar to those in Beverly Hills.

The Piedmont district has 1,996 students and is located in the affluent East Bay hills near Berkeley. More than 95% of its graduates go to college.

Three-Year Contract

French was given a three-year contract with an annual salary of $83,000 a year and a car allowance.

Voters in Piedmont approved a $212-per-parcel property tax initiative in 1985 to support the schools. A parcel tax initiative failed to win approval of the Beverly Hills' voters in March.

For Beverly Hills, he said, "the biggest challenge is to find the finances to provide the kind of quality education programs that are expected in the community."

In Piedmont, he added, residents "were convinced that the quality of life in their community was tied to the quality of the schools. They voted for the tax because they believe that if the schools go down their property values will go down."

French also said he would seek to eliminate the atmosphere of confrontation in contract negotiations with employees.

"There has to be a better way," he said. "In Piedmont, we approached disagreements over contracts in a more positive atmosphere as a joint effort to find the solutions to problems."

French also said that he welcomed the support of parents, but added some words of advice.

"Tell us what you want and leave it to the professional staff to do," he said. "I really don't think we want parents to walk in and tell us how to teach. When I take my car to a mechanic, I say, 'It has a funny noise, please fix it.' I don't say, 'Take this wire out here and that one there.' Because if I do he is going to tell me, 'Fix it yourself.' "

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