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Beutner emerges as a top pick for LA schools superintendent amid questions

Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Austin Beutner has emerged as a leading contender to run the Los Angeles school district, with backers saying he is smart enough and tough enough to confront its financial and academic struggles.

Though he does not have a background in education, the former investment banker has in the last year examined some of the district's intractable problems, serving as co-chair of an outside task force with the support of then-Superintendent Michelle King.

Sources inside and outside the school district said Beutner appears to have more support on the seven-member board than other finalists, and his name could come up for a vote as early as Tuesday.

But with the choice looming, board members last week received documents from the district's general counsel David Holmquist, notifying them that the charity Beutner founded, Vision to Learn, could lose its contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The nonprofit, according to the documents, has fallen far short in its commitment to provide vision screenings and glasses to thousands of low-income students this school year.

The Los Angeles Times was alerted to the Vision to Learn documents by sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. The leaks appear to represent a last-gasp effort to thwart Beutner's appointment, reflecting some insiders' concerns about his qualifications and about the direction in which he might take L.A. Unified.

Reached Monday, Beutner declined to comment on the superintendent search and referred questions about the nonprofit to its administrative staff, which is in charge of day-to-day operations. Vision to Learn quickly challenged the accuracy of the district findings, saying it has served more students than recorded in district tallies and that the school system caused early delays.

The school board received documents about that contract as Beutner, a former Los Angeles Times publisher, appeared to emerge as one of four finalists for the job of superintendent. He is scheduled to be interviewed a second time Tuesday, sources said.

Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, who has been managing the district since King left on medical leave last fall, also made it to the second round, insiders said.

The other two apparent finalists are more difficult to confirm, but several sources have named Indianapolis Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and former Baltimore Superintendent Andres Alonso, who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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