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L.A. schools chief will leave job to head off fight

Brewer, who lost key civic leaders' support, wants the board to buy out his contract.

December 09, 2008|Howard Blume, Jason Song and Mitchell Landsberg | Blume, Song and Landsberg are Times staff writers.

Under pressure by civic leaders and members of his own school board, Los Angeles Schools Supt. David L. Brewer announced Monday that he would leave his post rather than drag the district through a racially divisive fight.

The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education is expected to hash out the final details of an exit package today for Brewer, the retired Navy vice admiral who was supposed to bring military know-how and a deep passion for education to the job of running the nation's second-largest school district.

"As an African American, I've experienced my share of discrimination," he told reporters, school board members and district employees Monday. "I know what it looks like, smells like, and the consequences."

"Although this debate is disconcerting and troubling, it must not become an ethnic issue. When adults fight, it can manifest itself in our children," said Brewer, the district's second African American superintendent. "This must not become an ethnic or racial battle that infests our schools, our campuses, our playgrounds. This is not about settling an old score; this must be about what is best for every LAUSD student."

Brewer, who is midway through his four-year contract, did not formally resign. He said he would ask the school board to honor the buyout provisions of his contract.

Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines is widely expected to take over as interim superintendent, a job he held in 2000. Just prior to returning to the district, Cortines served as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's top education advisor. The mayor and his school board allies have long been unhappy with Brewer's performance.

Under the terms of Brewer's contract, the 62-year-old superintendent would be entitled to 18 months' severance, an amount estimated at $500,000. His compensation package includes a $300,000 salary, $45,000 a year for expenses and a $3,000 monthly housing allowance.

School board member Julie Korenstein criticized Brewer's forced departure and buyout as ill-timed and ill-advised. With the district facing potential layoffs and massive budget cuts over the next two years, "you have to make every attempt to stabilize the district," she said. "This does just the reverse."

And she characterized the anticipated buyout as a "dreadful misuse of public funds."

School board president Monica Garcia, who led the effort to unseat Brewer, released a carefully worded statement Monday thanking Brewer "for two years of hard work and dedication."

In an interview last month, Garcia said that district reforms were moving too slowly. Last week she alerted board members and civic leaders that she intended to discuss Brewer's future in closed session.

But she quickly pulled back because of concerns about stoking racial tensions. Garcia's office said she did not want to hold the meeting without Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, the board's only African American member, who would not cut short a previously scheduled out-of-town trip.

Brewer said last week he didn't understand the board's unhappiness with his performance. He also defended his record, noting that test scores rose this year and that voters last month passed the district's largest-ever school bond.

"I would take those two years and match them up against anyone else in the country," he had said.

Over the last week, Brewer's demeanor "changed from dumbfounded and dazed to moments of anger to moments of 'I'm protected by my contract' to moments of 'What does this have to do with kids?' " said former board member David Tokofsky, who has been in contact with Brewer.

Sunday afternoon, Brewer met at the Westwood home of board member Marlene Canter with Cortines, LaMotte and a handful of trusted district staff members. The purpose of the meeting was to help Brewer take stock of his options and decide what to do, according to those present. Canter, the former school board president, was instrumental in hiring Brewer, but she, too, has at times been critical of his leadership.

LaMotte never said that Brewer should necessarily be retained, but called it unfair to fire him without having established clear goals and giving him an opportunity to live up to them.

Korenstein and Canter echoed that sentiment Monday. Said Korenstein: "If the board majority doesn't like what the superintendent is doing, then board members should direct the superintendent on exactly what they want him to do, which they've never done."

Others said it was clear that Brewer was not living up to his promise.

A.J. Duffy, president of the powerful teachers' union, said Brewer appeared overly focused on running the district by the dictums of "how-to" management bestsellers.

"You're not going to improve student outcomes by quoting management books and extolling the virtues of systems analysis," he said. "When you're talking about student achievement, the human factor is the first factor and he never really got there."

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