The school board Monday hired Dennis M. Smith, a former superintendent with the Laguna Beach school system, to lead the Irvine Unified School District.
Smith, 44, replaces David E. Brown, who left Irvine in October to head the Napa Valley Unified School District. Brown earned $105,000 a year; Smith, who begins Aug. 1, will be paid $117,000 annually to oversee the 21,700-pupil district.
Smith was superintendent of the Laguna Beach Unified School District for five years before joining the Cajon Valley Union School District in San Diego County in 1991. He is married and has two elementary-school-age children.
In Irvine, Smith will face significant financial challenges in the aftermath of the county bankruptcy. The school board has cut $2.2 million from next school year's budget and sent notices of potential layoffs to 120 teachers, 30 administrators and 95 classified employees.
"Although it is going to be difficult for the next several years, the hard decisions have been made," Smith said. "Despite the bankruptcy, the staff is still there and they are what makes Irvine the great school system it is."
Trustees had previously agreed on Smith as the top finalist, but delayed their decision in order to tour the Cajon Valley schools.
Irvine Teachers Assn. President Steve Garretson visited Smith's 27-campus, 18,500-pupil elementary school district Friday with Irvine representatives. Garretson said Smith was credited with raising test scores, refurbishing schools and bringing technology into the classroom.
School board President Tom Burnham said trustees were impressed with Smith's leadership in areas of technology and fund-raising. "He understands how to manage with diminishing resources," Burnham said. "We think we have found the man to lead us into the next century."