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Austin Beutner Will Step Down As LAUSD Superintendent In June

L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner.
L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner.
(Chava Sanchez
/
LAist)
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Austin Beutner, who has led the Los Angeles Unified School District through a period of unprecedented tumult, will step down as superintendent after his current contract expires at the end of June.

In a letter sent Wednesday afternoon, Beutner asked LAUSD board members to allow his contract to expire "as planned on June 30."

Beutner's decision will plunge the nation's second-largest school district into its sixth leadership transition in a decade. Beutner is LAUSD's third non-interim superintendent in the last 10 years. In his letter, though, Beutner suggested that board members won't have to look far for a replacement.

"I believe," Beutner wrote, "the next superintendent of Los Angeles Unified can be found amongst the current team and she or he will be well placed to continue the progress at this critical time."

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According to Beutner's letter, board members had asked him to consider extending his current contract. He wanted to take the opportunity to leave on what he deemed a high note.

"In the meantime," he added, "I will remain focused on the task of ensuring that schools reopen in the safest way possible while helping in a seamless leadership transition."

LAUSD board members responded with a warm, joint, unsigned statement thanking Beutner for his three years of service and promising a “robust and equitable search process to find our next leader.”

“While we are disappointed that he will not continue to serve as Superintendent past [June 30],” the statement said, “we sincerely wish him and his family all the best.”

LAUSD Superintendents (2006-present)
  • David Brewer (Oct. 2006-Dec. 2008)

  • Ramon Cortines (Jan. 2009-Apr. 2011)

  • John Deasy (Apr. 2011-Oct. 2014)

  • Ramon Cortines (Oct. 2014-Dec. 2015)

  • Michelle King (Jan. 2016-Sept. 2017)

  • Vivian Ekchian (Sept. 2017-May 2018)

  • Austin Beutner (May 2018-June 2021)

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Beutner's Legacy

Two high-profile crises bookended and defined Beutner's tenure. From the moment Beutner took over LAUSD's top job in May 2018, he tangled with leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles. The union's distrust of Beutner — an investment banker by background, not an educator — helped fuel UTLA's drive toward a strike in January 2019.

L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner (right) tours Noble Elementary in North Hills on April 13, 2021.
L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner (right) tours Noble Elementary in North Hills on April 13, 2021.
(Kyle Stokes
/
LAist)

Beutner's response to the second crisis — the onset of the coronvirus pandemic — has earned high marks from many LAUSD administrators and teachers, including many of the same union members who saw Beutner as the villain of the 2019 strike.

Beutner fast-tracked deals for laptops, iPads, wi-fi hotspots and COVID-19 tests, all while sparring with other government agencies and elected officials whom he accused of short-changing K-12 schools in their reopening plans.

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“These initiatives helped restore public trust in Los Angeles Unified,” Beutner wrote in his letter, “and uniquely positioned schools to meet the needs of the community during an unprecedented 393 days of school closures due to the pandemic.”

His pandemic response has its critics, too. Some advocates say the superintendent caved to too many UTLA demands. During distance learning, critics charge he allowed union negotiators to whittle too many hours of live instruction off of the students' school day. A parent group is suing over LAUSD’s campus reopening plan, alleging Beutner’s agreement with UTLA illegally prevents students from five full days on campus per week.

In pre-pandemic times, Beutner also failed to score key political victories. In 2019, Beutner teamed with Mayor Eric Garcetti and UTLA leaders in hopes of passing a tax hike to fund LAUSD. But a wave of enthusiasm after the teachers strike had already crested; Measure EE went down to defeat.

Beutner also left his mark on the district’s bureaucracy, trimming expenses in the central office and pushing more administrators out of six regional “Local District” offices to create 44 neighborhood-based teams. Combined with the pandemic, Beutner’s reorganization has even laid the groundwork for a potential sale of the district’s downtown headquarters building — a symbol of the decentralization Beutner has advocated for LAUSD.

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L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner holds a news conference at LAUSD headquarters on Fri., Jan. 11, 2019. (Photo by Kyle Stokes/KPCC)

The Backstory: Why He Was Hired

When Beutner got the job in May 2018, LAUSD board members were looking for an outside-the-box choice.

By that point, Beutner had been retired from investment banking for a decade — and had spent that time taking on various high-profile civic projects. He served as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s “job czar,” launched an unsuccessful campaign to succeed Villaraigosa, started a nonprofit organization and served as publisher and CEO of the L.A. Times.

He sidled up to LAUSD in a more formal capacity in July 2017, when Beutner was introduced as a co-chair of a task force meant to advise then-LAUSD leader Michelle King on strategy matters — a position he got after a meeting with then-board member Richard Vladovic.

After King stepped down to battle cancer, Beutner was hired with the votes of five of the seven board members — Vladovic, plus a then-ascendant coalition of four board members with ties to charter school advocacy groups, including ex-board member Ref Rodriguez.

But the political winds may have shifted. Two of Beutner’s five original votes are no longer on the board: term limits ended Vladovic’s tenure. Rodriguez resigned shortly after Beutner’s hire was finalized and was replaced by Jackie Goldberg, who criticized the manner of Beutner’s hire. (Plus, current board president Kelly Gonez voted in 2018 to hire him despite reservations about his lack of experience as an educator.)

Board members faced a mid-May deadline on a decision whether to renew Beutner’s contract. A clause in the agreement requires board members to inform Beutner at least 45 days before the contract’s expiration date if they intend to sever ties.

Beutner earns a salary of $350,000 annually.

Updated April 21, 2021 at 5:20 PM PDT
Updated April 21, 2021 at 4:28 PM PDT