LOS ANGELES — L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner, who has guided the nation’s second-largest school district through a tumultuous year of coronavirus-forced school closures, will step down as leader of the school system when his contract expires in June, the Los Angeles Times has learned.
Beutner announced his decision in a letter Wednesday to the Board of Education.
“As the son of a public-school teacher and the product of a great public education, it has been an honor to serve as Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified for the past three years. It is the most rewarding job I’ve held during my nearly 40-year career,” Beutner said in the letter.
“I believe that it is fitting that a new superintendent should have the privilege of welcoming students back to school in the fall. I respectfully request that my contract end as planned on June 30,” he said. “In the meantime, I will remain focused on the task of ensuring that schools reopen in the safest way possible while helping in a seamless leadership transition.”
In recent weeks, with the end of his contract looming, there’s been internal discussion about a brief or long-term extension. The superintendent’s evaluation was among the topics listed for an ongoing closed session of the school board that began Wednesday morning and continued into the afternoon.
Beutner, 61, did not say why he was choosing to step down, focusing instead on listing accomplishments during his three-year tenure. Chief among them has been managing the school district through an unprecedented pandemic while launching several bold initiatives.
These have included a meal program that invited all in the community who needed food to come to school sites for assistance, almost certainly distributing far more meals than any other education-related entity in the country. He also developed a nation-leading school district coronavirus testing program. Some of these efforts have involved financially risky elements, including the costs the district bore to feed the needy with no guarantee of reimbursement from the government. Beutner, who exercised vast authority under emergency powers granted by the board, said such aggressiveness was necessary to the moment.
Beutner also dealt with a once-in-a-generation teachers strike — during which he was sometimes vilified as an unfeeling, corporate-style reformer, a characterization that deeply offended him. During the pandemic, he has generally worked in close concert with labor groups, sometimes to the dismay of union critics. This collaboration emphasized safety measures for students and employees while working to achieve more funding to confront the pandemic and to build up education improvement efforts.
The superintendent’s legacy on academic matters will be difficult to assess. Such efforts were waylaid by the lead-up to the strike and then by the pandemic, but he prioritized a focus on early literacy and Black academic achievement, devoting more resources and attention in these areas.
Beutner entered the job amid some controversy. A successful businessman who founded a nonprofit that worked with schools, he had no direct experience managing a school or school district. The Board of Education was closely divided over his hiring.
His previous stints of public service include relatively brief senior management roles with the city of Los Angeles. He also served for about a year as publisher of the L.A. Times.
Superintendent searches can last a year or more — a potential problem as L.A. Unified prepares a schedule for the summer and fall as well as a long-term academic recovery plan.
In his letter, Beutner endorsed the idea of finding a successor from within the ranks of his administrative team.
“I believe 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,” he said.©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.