After months of speculation and a closed-door national search process, the seven members of the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education announced on Monday that they have selected long-time district administrator Michelle King to be the district's next superintendent.
In brief remarks to reporters after the announcement, she thanked the board for "their confidence and support" and as the first African American woman to lead the district, sees herself as a role model for what can be achieved.
"I am the product of this very district," she said, wearing a red suit and surrounded by her parents, children and former Superintendent Ramon Cortines. "It has been a part of my life since I was 5 years old."
King, 54, has worked in the district since 1984, first as a life sciences teacher and then in a variety of academic and administrative roles, including as a high school principal, local district superintendent and the district's chief instructional officer for secondary schools. She served as the district's chief deputy superintendent since October 2014.
She said Monday her priorities would be to increase outreach to parents while making fiscally prudent choices. They are among the biggest problems in the district, where academic achievement is still far below state averages.
"It was a grueling process," school board president Steve Zimmer said with a chuckle and a huge smile as he introduced her as the new superintendent, speaking first in Spanish. "We know that she has the heart and soul to bring our communities together."
In November, a financial review panel commissioned by Cortines reported that the district faces a $333 million budget deficit by the 2017-18 school year and that shortfall could grow to more than $600 million two years after that.
The report found that the school district lost 100,000 students in the past six years, in part due to an exodus to independent charter schools. Additionally, a 2012 state tax increase that has produced millions of dollars in additional funds for California public education will expire next year.
In September, a plan to double the number of charter school campuses in L.A. over the next eight years prompted fierce opposition from United Teachers Los Angeles and some board members, including Zimmer, who said the plan would threaten the district's financial stability.
In a written statement, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the district's unanimous choice will be "inspiring" to "thousands of girls throughout our City".
Unlike former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Garcetti has not until now played a role in education policy. On Monday, he seemed to hint that might change.
"I am eager to partner with her in this new role as we work to improve outcomes for all students in Los Angeles," he said.
King succeeds Cortines, who was appointed interim superintendent in October 2014 after the resignation of the controversial district leader John Deasy. Although Cortines initially told district officials that he would stay as long as they needed while a permanent successor was found, he announced last year that he would retire in December 2015.
Since Cortines officially departed last month, King has effectively run the district in her role as the top deputy.
The school board and the search firm it hired – Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates – began reaching out to candidates in November. The firm had conducted public forums – many sparsely attended – the month before in many school district neighborhoods to gather input on the criteria for selecting a new leader.
Despite some board members’ efforts to open the final stage of the search to the public, the school board decided the search would be confidential.
The board said it was setting out to pick a superintendent who had been a teacher and a principal, and who would be a champion of the struggles of African American and Latino students who live in poverty.