Former Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times publisher lasted four months in that position. What could go wrong?
By Thomas Ultican / Tultican
Eli Broad and friends have picked his wealthy business partner, Austin Beutner, to lead LA schools. Their kindred spirit from San Francisco, Reed Hastings, is chipping in for the cause as are Fisher, Walton, Bloomberg and several other billionaires. The selection of Beutner signals another existential crisis for America’s second largest public school district.
In May of 2017, these pro-privatization forces bankrolled a successful destroy public education (DPE) take-over of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). For the first time ever, a pro-charter school voting bloc is in control. Now, have selected Beutner as their leader.
On April 16, Howard Blume reporting for the Los Angeles Times said, “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.” However, the selection has been surprisingly stalled.
April 20, Blume updated the story for the LA Times. He speculated Beutner would be selected that day. Blume wrote, “Some of the city’s power brokers seem to be invested in Beutner, 58, who is himself one of L.A.’s more influential leaders.” However, later in the day, the Daily News reported, “The board met for hours Friday but announced shortly after 7 p.m. that it would be reconvening at 11 a.m. May 1 to resume the discussion”.
Eds Note: On Tuesday, May 1, Austin Butner was named Superintendent. This story was written before that decision and was updated to reflect the choice.
- The vote to hire Beutner was on April 20th. For some reason, LAUSD board hid the decision.
- Kelly Gonez voted against hiring Beutner. Vladovic voted to hire him. The vote to hire him was 4-3.
- The 5-2 vote that has been floating around was for his contract, not for actually hiring him.
- Vladovic could have stopped this, he ends up being the deciding vote shockingly.
Vladovic was viewed as being one of three no votes and Gonez was viewed as a yes vote. Even though she got a lot of money from the billionaire privatizers: Bloomberg, Hastings, Broad, etc. Gonez showed some courage and principle.
Four Finalists in Superintendent Bid
In the April 16 LA Times article, Blume also stated that in addition to front-runner Beutner, three finalists were in contention. He noted:
“Interim Supt. Vivian Ekchian, who has been managing the district since King left on medical leave last fall, also made it to the second round, according to insiders. The other two apparent finalists are more difficult to confirm, but several sources have named Indianapolis Supt. Lewis Ferebee and former Baltimore Supt. Andres Alonso, who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.”
Popular LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King resigned on January 5th. She had been fighting cancer since the summer of 2017 and had been on medical leave since the fall.
Ferebee has been the Superintendent of Schools in Indianapolis, Indiana since 2013. Influenced by The Mind Trust, Indianapolis has become a model for the DPE movement. The fact that Ferebee, who is a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, is a finalist speaks volumes about the direction the new LAUSD board is charting.
The 74, a noted DPE oriented publication started by Campbell Brown, said that when first appointed he looked like a strange choice then continued, “But since he stepped into the role of superintendent in 2013, Ferebee has developed stronger relationships between traditional district and charter schools, grown the city’s network of innovation schools, and worked toward giving principals more decision-making power.”
Last week Ferebee removed himself from consideration. On April 18, the Indianapolis Star quoted him:
‘“Recently, I was announced as one of the finalists for the Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent position,’ Ferebee’s statement said. ‘After further discussing this endeavor with my family, the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners, and those handling the search process, I have withdrawn my name from consideration. It was an honor to have been considered for an opportunity of this magnitude.”’
He has no educational training or experience. His only qualification seems to be his willingness to do the job and the support he has from LA’s power elites. They claim his background in investment banking will lead to a solution to the charter school induced deficits plaguing LAUSD.
Beutner grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan just thirty miles up the road from Holland Michigan and the DeVos clan. His father, Roger Earl Beutner, was the Vice-President of Operations at Amway. He and his siblings Sheryl and Brian all attended East Grand Rapids High School, a public school.
He went to Dartmouth in the fall of 1978 majoring in economics. That seems to be the extent of his formal education.
His Revolvy biography states,
“After graduation in 1982 he went to work at Smith Barney as a financial analyst. At the age of 29, he became the youngest partner at The Blackstone Group, one of the largest private equity firms in the world. In the 1990s he co-founded the investment banking group Evercore Partners which went public in 2006.”
Dartmouth Magazine noted, “In the mid-1990s President Bill Clinton asked him to advise Russia on transitioning to a free-market economy. (During his three years in Moscow, Beutner met with both Yeltsin and Putin.)”
After recovering from a serious biking accident, Beutner started looking for new challenges outside the banking industry. In 2009, LA’s economy was in the tank, companies were leaving town and business insiders were not happy with Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa’s “feckless response.” Former mayor and billionaire, Richard Riordan, hosted a breakfast for city movers and shakers to discuss the issue. In a 2011 puff piece about Beutner, Gabriel Kahn of Los Angeles Magazine provided a description of the event:
“Riordan wanted to bring together some of the most prominent people in L.A. to see what could be done. Among those attending were Michael Milken, Eli Broad, and Disney senior executive Jay Rasulo, along with [George] Kieffer [from the LA law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips], City National Bank chairman Russell Goldsmith, and Jay Carson, who was chief deputy mayor at the time. Beutner also had a seat, though few of the guests knew him well. One after the other they rattled off ways to address L.A.’s most glaring problems: slash the lengthy business permitting process, do away with arcane business taxes, tackle runaway pension costs. Then Beutner spoke up. The proposals were all fine, he said, but until a person inside city hall is charged with implementing them, nothing would change. Those present took notice.”
Villaraigosa appointed Beutner to a new position he created, Deputy Mayor. He was given an extensive portfolio of responsibilities. Kahn wrote, “Beutner, who had decades of experience in investment banking but none in local government, was granted oversight of 12 city agencies, from the Port of Los Angeles to the Housing Authority.” He was the supervisor of 17,000 city employees.
Kahn ended his LA Magazine article with:
“No matter what happens, Villaraigosa says he wants someone doing Beutner’s job. After all, someone’s got to run the city.”
In February 2016, the San Diego Reader reported,
“Last May, when Chicago-based Tribune Publishing bought the San Diego Union-Tribune from developer Douglas Manchester, Austin Beutner seemed poised to take the city by storm. Appointed publisher of both the U-T and the Los Angeles Times, the former Wall Street wheeler-dealer and Democratic ex-deputy mayor of L.A. and friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton pledged to make over failing newspaper models and personally oversee everything from interviews with governor Jerry Brown to daily editorials.
“Then Beutner was suddenly gone, dumped in September by Tribune after a reportedly failed attempt by his onetime associate, Democratic billionaire Eli Broad, to buy out the Times and U-T as part of Broad’s effort to build a personal Southern California newspaper empire.”
No training or experience in education but lots of money and connections. Isn’t this the requirement for top management positions in banana republics?
This finalist was the Superintendent of education in Baltimore, Maryland for six years. He resigned in 2013. Before Baltimore, he was chief of staff and then deputy chancellor for Teaching and learning during the first phase of New York’s Children First reforms. [Update: A reliable source says Alonso actually had no supervisory authority in NY. The information cited is from his Harvard biography.]
In his doctoral thesis, Danial Voloch studied the Children First reform. He begins,
“During the first decade of the 21st century, Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg oversaw a radical transformation of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) into a portfolio management district in which the primary responsibility of the NYCDOE was not to develop the capacity of school leaders or teachers, but instead to create a marketplace through which strong schools could be created and failing schools could be closed.” (emphasis added)
Alonso was an early practitioner of the DPE favored portfolio management theory with its associated churn and disruption.
Upon his resignation the Baltimore Sun wrote of Alonso’s performance:
“Under Alonso’s leadership, city schools saw growth in test scores, graduation rates, and enrollment, but his administration was dogged by fiscal problems and cheating scandals.
“The first half of his tenure was marked by a series of reforms: closing more than one dozen failing schools and programs and creating several others that have thrived; decentralizing the system by cutting the headquarters staff by more than half; giving principals power over budget decisions; creating choice for city families, and competition among middle and high schools; and signing a landmark pay-for-performance teachers’ union contract that was hailed as a model in the nation. (emphasis added)
“Test scores stalled, and a series of cheating scandals — found by the state to have taken place during the year the district’s progress was most celebrated — cast a cloud over the success story.
Since leaving Baltimore, Alonso has been teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He does have extensive experience and training, but his philosophy of education leadership is deeply flawed.
Her LAUSD biography informs us that Ms. Ekchian is a 32-year veteran of L.A. Unified and has served in a variety of roles: teacher assistant, classroom teacher, principal, director of instruction, chief of staff to the superintendent of schools, chief human resources officer, chief labor negotiator, local district superintendent, associate superintendent, and acting superintendent. In January, LAUSD Board of Education voted unanimously to appoint Ms. Ekchian as interim superintendent.
She was awarded a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from California State University, Northridge, as well as a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of California, Los Angeles. Currently, Ekchian is working toward a doctorate in educational leadership through the University of Southern California.
She is a naturalized Armenian-American born in Iran to Armenian parents. Ekchian was raised and educated in Heidelberg, Germany so she naturally understands the challenges facing students with diverse backgrounds.
Of the four finalists for the position, Ekchian is the most experienced and most committed to seeing LAUSD succeed in its mission to maintain high-quality professionally run public schools in every neighborhood. Unfortunately, the new LAUSD board appears committed to the DPE path.
Who Does the LAUSD Board Represent?
It is widely acknowledged that the last LAUSD board election was the most expensive school board election in history. The spending by the DPE movement was approximately double that of the teacher’s unions. However, this is misleading.
Over 7,000 teachers voluntarily contributed an average of $9.50 a month for a total of $67,000 starting in January 2017. By the election in May, those 7,000 people had contributed over $300,000. On February 22, 2017, the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg contributed $500,000.
Howard Blume and Ben Poston wrote a post-election piece describing the sources the money spent on the election. They said,
“It’s an oversimplification to say the outcome was all about money, but charters spent more ($9.7 million compared with $5.2 million), and their candidates finished first in both races on Tuesday’s ballot.”
“Based on spending since the March primary, pro-charter outside groups and individuals spent $144 for every vote cast for one of the charter-endorsed candidates. Unions spent $81 for every vote received by teachers union-backed candidates.”
“More information will be revealed with ongoing disclosure filings, but Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix and a Democrat, appears to lead the pack with nearly $7 million donated since last September to California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates. Hastings, like others, does not appear in city filings as a contributor because he gave to the charter association. That association then spent money on the campaign or transferred funds to other pro-charter groups.”
“How easy is it to figure out the source of the money in the school board races?
“Not very. California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, for example, files with state regulators, not the city, and the state requires only a semi-annual report. It won’t be possible to look up who gave in the five months leading up to the May 16 election until sometime after June.”
Major contributors are required to file their contributions with the State of California. The following table is of contributions in 2017, most of which came in before May.
CCSA Advocates is an independent expenditure committee associated with the California Charter Schools Association. Ref Rodriquez, who is charged with campaign finance and charter school money fraud, is the fourth vote for the DPE side. Marshall Tuck is the DPE backed candidate for state superintendent of instruction. Kellen Gonez and Nick Melvoin were just elected to the LAUSD board. Much of the independent expenditure money went to them. Ed Voice, Ed Voice for Kids and LA Students are all independent expenditure committees supporting the DPE movement. LA Students is Richard Riordan’s independent expenditure committee. It has nothing to do with students.
Melvoin and Gonez claim they are not ruled by these big money spenders. Their vote for the next LAUSD superintendent said otherwise.