The Los Angeles Board of Education on Monday voted unanimously to extend for one year the contract of Supt. Leonard Britton, who was the target of heated teachers union attacks during a year dominated by labor strife and board disagreements.
The board took the action to extend Britton's contract until June 30, 1991, during a lengthy closed-door meeting. His current three-year contract expires in 1990.
"I appreciate the confidence of the board," Britton said after the announcement late Monday.
During much of the last school year, the board was deeply divided over issues related to teachers' salaries and roles, and some members had questioned Britton's leadership on certain issues.
But on Monday, board President Jackie Goldberg said, "It's important that everyone understand it was a unanimous vote" to renew the superintendent's contract.
Newly elected board member Mark Slavkin acknowledged that individual board members expressed differences of opinion about Britton's performance, but he did not elaborate.
"There was give and take all the way around," he said. "I was pleased at the tone. It was very constructive, very positive."
Said board member Roberta Weintraub, "This sends a message loud and clear to the community how much the board supports (Britton) and the staff after this most tumultuous and difficult year."
The board also renewed the contracts of three other top administrators, Deputy Supts. Sidney A. Thompson and William Anton and legal adviser Ronald Apperson.
Britton was named superintendent in May, 1987, after a lengthy search. He succeeded Harry Handler, who retired.
Britton was formerly the superintendent of schools in Dade County, Fla., where he had developed a reputation as a strong supporter of teachers. He was credited with launching that district into a new era of cooperation with the local teachers union and with laying the groundwork for an ambitious effort to expand teachers' decision-making powers in local schools.
When he arrived in Los Angeles, he said that improving relations between district management and the teachers union, United Teachers-Los Angeles, was one of his top priorities.
But during the 1988-89 school year, the board and Britton became embroiled in a bitter and protracted dispute with the union over contract issues of pay and power.
At the height of the dispute that culminated in a nine-day strike, many teachers sported buttons showing Britton's face with a red slash through it. Union President Wayne Johnson publicly attacked Britton as ineffective because of his inability to persuade the board to support a proposal on "school-based management," a new method of school governance that gives teachers and parents a greater stake in making schools successful.
The board and the union eventually reached accord on a school-based management plan, however.
Britton's salary, which was recently raised from $141,000 to $152,000 a year, also became a major rallying point for teachers upset with the gap between their pay and that of administrators. The average teacher earns about $36,000 annually.
Teachers union officials could not be reached Monday for comment on the extension of Britton's contract.
In an interview Monday, however, Britton conceded that the past year was more trying than he had anticipated. But he seemed upbeat and eager to tackle the district's problems, mentioning improving relations with the teachers union as one of his top goals.
"This is an area that has to be worked on. I hope school-based management may be a vehicle to help get this done," he said.
Britton also said that he wants to find ways to reduce the number of students who cannot attend their neighborhood schools because they are too crowded. More than 20,000 pupils are bused because of overcrowding.
Early projections show that district enrollment, which had slowed the last two years, could rise by 7,000 to 10,000 students during the coming school year.
"It may be that we'll have to get into more consideration of year-round schools," he said.
But year-round schools, which handle up to 50% more students because they operate through the summer, are controversial, and so far the school board has been reluctant to create more of them.
Britton said he also intends to focus on raising student achievement, strengthening education programs in the early and middle grades, improving campus safety and building local business community support for schools.