LAUSD superintendent talks with EDL students about leadership

April 29, 2019

Austin Beutner spoke with USC Rossier students on the challenges of running districts

By Ross Brenneman

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner discussed leadership with students in USC Rossier’s EDL program, and with other local superintendents. (Photo courtesy of Lourdes Valentine/LAUSD)

Austin Beutner, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, spoke with students in the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EDL) program on Friday about leadership—and the many difficulties it brings.

In a Q&A with Karen Symms Gallagher, Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean of USC Rossier, Beutner discussed his time running the nation’s second-largest school district, hitting on topics like teacher retention, supports for English-learners and working with state legislators to improve school funding. Members of the Dean’s Superintendents Advisory Group (DSAG) also attended the discussion.

In the year since the LAUSD board hired Beutner, he has faced several challenges, perhaps chief among them tensions with United Teachers Los Angeles, the local teachers’ union. In January, teachers went on a nine-day strike, with heated arguments between the superintendent and union leaders often taking place in the press.

“In L.A. Unified, if it’s right for the student, it’s up to us—the adults—to get to the right place,” Beutner said. “Too many of our decisions are burdened by politics and complexity and the lack of resources or other things.”

Fighting for more resources—namely, money—has been the central theme of Beutner’s tenure. While estimates vary, most recent studies of per-pupil funding show California ranking near the bottom compared to all other states.

“We’re not adequately funded,” Beutner said. “It’s disappointing to me as a Californian that we can’t make this a priority.”

Within LAUSD, Beutner noted, close to 7,000 students are in foster care, and 17,000 students are homeless, out of nearly 700,000 students total.

Beutner also said that he hopes to see the district improve financial literacy for families, and find ways to improve school culture, noting how teachers have pressed for better culture in addition to higher wages.

And in all of the district’s work, Beutner said, there are places for research institutions like USC Rossier.

“We should be able to provide more information about what works,” he said, “and what doesn’t work.”

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