Credit: Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times/Polaris
Austin Beutner, LAUSD Superintendent, addresses the media during a press conference held outside the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles in Aug. 2020.

After leading Los Angeles Unified for three years and through a year of school closures forced by the Covid-19 pandemic, the superintendent of the nation’s second-largest school district announced that he will be stepping down in June.

Supt. Austin Beutner announced the decision on Wednesday, in a letter to the school board, one week after schools reopened for in-person instruction for the first time in over a year.

Beutner did not include a reason for stepping down once his contract ends on June 30. Instead, the four-page letter listed a series of accomplishments achieved during his three-year tenure as the leader of the state’s largest school district, including a rise in graduation rates in 2020, a restructuring of the district into 44 local teams, called Communities of Schools, and a reduction in chronic absenteeism in 2019.

The letter also detailed how the district took on the Covid-19 pandemic, including the distribution of millions of meals, establishment of school-based sites offering free Covid-19 testing and vaccines and a plan to offer summer school to all students.

Beutner noted that a new superintendent could be found within the district.

“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 wrote.

The superintendent was appointed in May 2018 on a 5-2 school board vote. With a background as an investment banker, a Los Angeles Times publisher and deputy mayor of Los Angeles, the decision to appoint was controversial, as he did not have a background in education. Beutner received strong support from advocates of charter schools. During his tenure, Beutner dealt both with a historic teachers’ strike and a pandemic.

Reactions to the announcement have been mixed.

“We would like to thank Superintendent Austin Beutner for his three years of dedicated service to the students and families of L.A. Unified. We are particularly grateful for his unwavering leadership during the extraordinary challenges facing our school district during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Los Angeles Unified school board wrote in a statement. “While we are disappointed that he will not continue to serve as Superintendent past that date, we sincerely wish him and his family all the best. The Board remains committed to providing a high-quality public education to every child in Los Angeles and, as part of that work, will embark on a robust and equitable search process to find our next leader.”

A group of Los Angeles Unified parents and teachers said in a statement that they want Beutner’s successor to have a professional background in education.

“As stakeholders of the LAUSD, we want to make certain that Superintendent Beutner’s successor holds an education background, maintains and sharpens the focus on safety and resources for the fall school year and adheres to the bargaining commitments made on behalf of teachers, staff and families,” according to the statement by Parents Supporting Teachers, which was created to support teachers during the 2019 teachers’ strike.

Aydé Bravo, a 2nd grade teacher at Maywood Elementary School and a representative on United Teachers Los Angeles board of directors, said the proliferation of charter schools in the district has been a concern in recent years.

“Charter schools are not accountable to their school community because their school board members are not elected but rather appointed,” Bravo said. “I worry that the next superintendent won’t be any better due to the current majority charter supporting board.”

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