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D.C. educator withdraws from job at downtown L.A. arts school

Rory Pullens, who runs the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., accepts the job of principal, then backs out. Other candidates have followed the same arc.

October 13, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Rory Pullens runs an arts school in Washington, D.C.
Rory Pullens runs an arts school in Washington, D.C. (www.ellingtonschool.org )

Once again, a highly regarded educator from outside Los Angeles has accepted and then backed away from the job of running the downtown arts high school, which has had a short but troubled history.

This time, the main actor in the familiar plotline is Rory Pullens, head the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. Pullens had also pulled out after accepting once before, due to a family crisis.

This time, Los Angeles Unified Supt. John Deasy said, the issue had more to do with the response in Washington to Pullens' impending departure.

"He definitely was very clear that he thought he could make the move with his family, but he also had extensive outreach not to go, and that weighed into his decision," Deasy said.

Apparently, Pullens had not appreciated how much people wanted him to stay, and some may have even linked their level of support or enthusiasm for the school to Pullens' involvement, Deasy said. The L.A. school district announced Pullens' hire Sept. 21.

Pullens did not reply to an interview request.

Deasy said he learned of Pullens' decision late last week; the Washington Post reported it Wednesday. The announcement of Pullens' hire remained on the L.A. school's website Wednesday evening, but word of Pullens' withdrawal filtered to parents and staff as the day wore on.

"I hope this is not true," parent Judi Bell said. "Our school needs a principal of this caliber."

Earlier, the district's job offer had been spurned — at least twice — by Kim Bruno, who runs the well-regarded performing arts high school in New York City. The district itself installed and removed three top administrators in the school's first two years.

Deasy said the district will consult with a hiring committee that includes parents and school staff before deciding how to proceed.

L.A. Unified could not match Pullens' compensation package from the District of Columbia Public Schools, but Deasy said he didn't think money drove Pullens' decision.

More than a year ago, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad had been willing to supplement the principal's salary in L.A. by $75,000, according to former L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, after whom the arts high school is named.

On this round, Broad's foundation had committed to pay Pullens $20,000 over three years for "consulting services" to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles "to expand their arts education programming," spokeswoman Karen Denne said recently.

Deasy was under pressure from the administrators union not to allow outside funding that would result in one principal earning much more than others.

In response, Deasy said it was up to Pullens to work out any supplemental financial arrangement, including employment outside of his district-paid time.

Broad played a prominent role in the development of the $232-million Grand Avenue campus, which just began its third year. But he has limited his public and financial support since disagreements emerged over management of the school.

The Broad Foundation had no immediate comment about Pullens' decision.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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