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L.A. Community College District chancellor to resign

Daniel LaVista, who has led the district since 2010, presided over the colleges as the state was mired in a severe budget crisis. He will step down June 30.

February 19, 2013|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
  • Chancellor Daniel LaVista said in a districtwide email that he would pursue “other opportunities that combine my professional and family interests.”
Chancellor Daniel LaVista said in a districtwide email that he would pursue… (Los Angeles Community College…)

The chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District announced Tuesday that he will resign his post, leaving behind a system grappling with poor graduation and transfer rates and daunting budget cuts.

Daniel LaVista made his announcement in a districtwide email in which he extolled the progress made in strengthening accountability and bringing better coordination to the nine-campus district but acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead.

"Even with a healthier FY14 budget proposed for the state's community colleges, there are no quick fixes," LaVista said, for increasing student success, addressing accreditation problems and completing the multibillion-dollar building program.

"The chancellor who leads this remarkable albeit challenging district must take the long view and make a long-term commitment, something I'm unable to do," he said in the email.

LaVista was not available for comment. In the memo, he said he would pursue "other opportunities that combine my professional and family interests." LaVista, 69, became chancellor in August 2010 and earns an annual salary of $370,000.

His resignation is effective June 30, giving the Board of Trustees time to recruit a new or interim chief, he said.

LaVista presided over the colleges as the state was mired in a severe budget crisis, with public higher education systems especially hard hit. California's 112 community colleges operate in a decentralized system of 72 districts governed by boards of trustees; those boards appoint chancellors.

The two-year colleges play a vital role in California's higher education system, training large segments of the state's workforce and typically sending large shares of students to four-year schools. But the system has strained under the pressure of nearly $1 billion in funding cuts and has seen enrollment drop by more than 500,000 students in recent years.

The colleges have struggled to move students more quickly toward graduation and transfer to other universities. Gov. Jerry Brown and others have offered proposals to prioritize enrollment, change funding policies and require orientation and counseling.

The Los Angeles district serves about 240,000 students each year but has lost about $100 million in state support since 2009 and has slashed more than 1,500 class sections. It received harsher scrutiny after a 2011 Times investigation uncovered poor planning, questionable spending and other flaws in a $6-billion campus rebuilding project. And two campuses — Harbor and Southwest — were placed on academic probation last year.

The chancellor initially rejected criticism of the building project, financed with bonds, calling the program "well-managed and effective," and dismissed Times articles as "one-sided" and "sensationalist." But he subsequently committed to reviewing construction practices.

LaVista steered a steady course, establishing a strong working relationship with his Board of Trustees and centralizing oversight of the building program, board President Steve Veres said.

"He fought to keep the institution focused on the mission and on a steady track and that's really critical when the money isn't there," Veres said. "He set us in a strong positive direction."

Veres said LaVista had recently undergone an annual performance review that was satisfactory and that the decision to leave was entirely his own.

"The board as a whole has a high regard for him and believes he's done a good job at the district," he said.

Brice Harris, chancellor of the California community colleges, said in a statement that under LaVista's leadership, the district "survived severe cutbacks forced on it by the recession, improved operations and accountability throughout the district and brought heightened focus on improving student success."

The board is scheduled to discuss the search for a new leader at its meeting Wednesday, Veres said.

Three of the seven board seats will be contested in the March 5 election. One incumbent, Nancy Pearlman, is running, while Tina Park and Kelly Candaele did not seek reelection. Veres said he will ask LaVista to help orient new board members before they take office July 1.

LaVista replaced interim Chancellor Tyree Wieder, who took over after the June 2009 departure of Chancellor Marshall Drummond. A native of upstate New York, LaVista previously served as executive director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, as well as president of two community colleges in Illinois.

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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