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LAUSD Superintendent Calls To Cancel Emergency Powers Used To Navigate The Pandemic

L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner (right) tours Fleming Middle School in Lomita ahead of the school district's reopening of middle- and high school campuses on April 26, 2021.
L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner (right) tours Fleming Middle School in Lomita ahead of the school district's reopening of middle- and high school campuses on April 26, 2021.
(Kyle Stokes
/
LAist)
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Los Angeles Unified school board members will vote this week whether to cancel the emergency spending powers they granted to Superintendent Austin Beutner at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since March 2020, Beutner and his staff have used those powers to unilaterally make fast-track business deals — and avoid the normal bidding process and school board oversight — in order to help the nation’s second-largest school system respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Throughout the pandemic, no school district leader in L.A. County wielded broader emergency authority than Beutner. The superintendent has said these powers were instrumental in helping LAUSD purchase enough devices in the early days of distance learning and secure a headline-grabbing $51.3 million agreement with lab start-up SummerBio to provide COVID-19 tests for staff, students and family members.

"We wouldn't have SummerBio if we had to go through the traditional process," Beutner said in a September interview. "There's no chance...Start-up companies don't do business with big bureaucracies."

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LAUSD board members — who usually have the final say in all spending and governance decisions — have praised how the superintendent has used those powers. Some board members, however, have suggested that Beutner could have shared more information with them about how he used the special authority.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Beutner’s office asked for an agenda item to cancel the emergency powers. The resolution asks LAUSD board members to “declare emergency conditions no longer exist.”