L.A. schools chief threatens to quit, then rescinds threat made over proposal he thinks is too costly
Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines on Friday threatened to retire by the end of the year because he was upset that some school board members want to restore workers to elementary schools, a move he thought would be too costly.
"It is obvious that the majority of the Board does not practically and realistically recognize the situation that the District is in," he wrote in a letter to the school board obtained by The Times.
Cortines, 78, who has already said he would step down from his post next spring, later rescinded his threat. He declined to speak to a Times reporter Friday, but several board members said Cortines eventually reassured them he had no intention of retiring early.
"We had a problem, but we talked and now it’s fine," said school board President Monica Garcia, who said she now expected Cortines to stick to his original, inexact departure timetable.
The school district has gone through several years or tough economic times and must balance a nearly $360-million deficit for next year, according to a presentation at Tuesday’s board meeting.
Cortines was upset over a resolution that called for restoring campus plant managers, who oversee cleaning and maintenance while also securing or opening fences and classrooms, among other tasks. The resolution talked of using one-time federal economic stimulus funds and "other revenue enhancements" to pay for the move. The resolution did not state how much the plan would cost.
Principals and parents have complained that the loss of plant managers would leave schools dirty and unsafe. To save money, the district is planning to instead rely on teams of lower-salaried cleaners who move from school to school at night.
Cortines said the resolution would be economically unfeasible and the alternative approach, developed by the district’s facilities division, would ensure student health and safety.
"I would never recommend anything that would create a concern for the health and welfare of our students and staff," he wrote.
Cortines also expressed annoyance that he was not included in discussions that led to the resolution.
"I am concerned that not one board member that has signed on to this Resolution had the professional courtesy to speak with me personally," he wrote.
The resolution is scheduled to be heard at Tuesday’s board meeting and was sponsored by Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, Steve Zimmer and Richard Vladovic. Lamotte and Zimmer could not be reached Friday night and Vladovic said he had spoken with Cortines.
"We’re fine," Vladovic said.
Cortines took the top job in December 2008 after leading school districts in New York, San Francisco, San Jose and Pasadena. He also was the interim superintendent in Los Angeles for six months in 2000.
When he announced his impending retirement in the summer, Cortines spoke of being tired and occasionally fed up with politics and infighting.
"I get frustrated. I am human," he said at the time.
Cortines’ tenure has been marked by unending budget cuts, which resulted in thousands of layoffs, caused by declining state funding. Cortines also has occasionally sparred with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and charter school advocates.
-- Jason Song and Howard Blume
Photo: L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon C. Cortines holds his head on March 2 after asking the school board to approve preliminary layoff notices for 5,200 district employees.
Credit: Bob Chamberlin /Los Angeles Times