The Los Angeles Times and several other news sources are reporting that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will announce the appointment of Austin Beutner as its new Superintendent. So here is what we know about Austin Beutner.
He certainly has an impressive biography and resume. Beutner is quite wealthy, so he definitely is not taking this monumental task for the money. He is a 58 year old businessman and philanthropist. He was the CEO and publisher of The Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune. His main background is in business and public policy, not education. However, he does have extensive experience as a lecturer with various institutions of higher learning. According to *wikipedia, Beutner has lectured on his experiences in business, government, and journalism University of California, UCLA, Columbia University, and Harvard. Not too shabby for someone without formal pedagogical training.
I am conflicted on how to feel about Beutner’s lack of experience as a K-12 educator, but there is a case to be made for Austin Beutner to become Superintendent at LAUSD.
Although he has no direct K-12 classroom experience or administrator experience within the K-12 setting, Beutner certainly has experience with children and with the school district. Beutner has been serving on the LA Unified Advisory Task Force since helping to develop it with Lephonza Butler of SEIU to help then-Superintendent Michelle King work on improvements. There is little doubt that his work on the task force was a key factor in his appointment.
“At my request, business leader Austin Beutner has assembled the LA Unified Advisory Task Force, bringing together innovative civic, education and other leaders to support our efforts to improve District schools and accelerate student achievement,” King said in a statement. She added, “The task force is partnering with me to provide recommendations for effectively executing the goals outlined in our Strategic Plan. At the same time, we want to foster a culture of change in which we identify opportunities and embrace solutions to close the achievement gap.”
Now, on the one hand, LAUSD (the second largest school district in the country, with 900 schools and 187 public charters) is a school district responsible for the education of nearly 735,000 students annually with nearly 61,000 employees (26,000+ teachers and 33,000+ classified employees). Should the superintendent be required to have educational experience and background as a teacher/administrator to oversee the wellbeing of these students’ education? I suppose not, considering the hundreds of administrators, who have classroom experience, that can brief the superintendent on matters directly dealing with education.
On the other hand, this juggernaut district is also responsible for a whopping $7.9 billion budget (more than several state budgets), which makes me think that having a business guy at the helm could be the difference needed to help improve outcomes for students. Beutner would look at the budget with a business lens, which could prove to be a huge benefit in decision making.
Something else about Beutner that I find appealing is his philanthropy. You can really learn a lot about a person by the type of work they put their time and treasure into. There are a few telling items in Beutner’s background that give me hope that he is truly a champion for kids. One is the Vision to Learn Foundation. Vision to Learn provides mobile eye clinics and free eye glasses to children in LAUSD schools and other school districts. Since its inception in 2012, over 100,000 kids have received free eye exams and glasses through the foundation, which is impressive and inspiring. Additionally impressive is his ability to network and partner with sports organizations and other groups to help bring resources to LAUSD and other surrounding school districts, which are predominantly in communities of color.
Beutner has also served on various boards (and served as Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles in 2012) showcasing his commitment to kids in Los Angeles. One of the boards that I am most interested in the California Institute of Arts. Beutner currently serves on the CalArts board, which tells me that he values the arts and knows the value of the arts in our schools. It doesn’t hurt that he is a master at bringing resources to support these ideals. That’s another positive point for him from my perspective.
That said, for me, the absolute tipping point is Austin Beutner, the champion of immigrants. In 2016, Austin Beutner signed his name onto an Amicus Brief in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) to provide relief to the thousands of immigrant families.
Then there is this…
“When I first heard of his appointment and that he had this Wall Street background and a lot of money, I was skeptical,” says María Elena Durazo, the Los Angeles head of the AFL-CIO. “And nobody called us to ask what we thought.” Like most everybody who has worked with him, though, Durazo came away impressed. “I’m so used to hearing why something can’t be done or why it’s going to take so long,” she says. With Beutner it’s the opposite. “He just gets it done.” She says that when she needed advice on city business, she would “absolutely go to Austin first.”*
I look forward to seeing how he can make a difference at LAUSD.
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