Talking schools with L.A. Unified’s new superintendent

Austin Beutner, who officially starts Tuesday as the new superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, is taking on a famously difficult job at a particularly difficult time. The school board is divided and did not back him unanimously. The nation’s second-largest school district has deep-seated problems, including declining enrollment, lagging academic achievement and rising pension and healthcare costs that eat away at its budget.

The 58-year-old former investment banker and former L.A. Times publisher has years of experience in the financial world but none as an educator. Earlier this week, he sat down with the Times education team to discuss the challenges facing the district, which has about 60,000 employees and 500,000 students in traditional public schools. He did not talk about his plans — saying repeatedly, “stay tuned” — but he spoke in broad terms about his mindset in approaching the tough decisions ahead.

“This is not an overnight exercise,” he said of his new job, “it won’t be easy.”

On balancing L.A. Unified’s potential budget crisis with teachers’ demands for higher pay

“I would posit a priori that education should be valued more highly, not just in our community but throughout the nation, whether it’s a teacher or someone who drives a bus and gets those kids to school, those are undervalued. That’s my value. Now, we have to balance that against our choices. … I do think our workforce needs to be treated fairly. They need to have career paths, they need to be trained, they need to feel good about the work they do and be valued for that, but we have to put those choices and those set of values on the table with other things the district also has to accommodate.”

On the need for more spending on public education

“According to the state of California, $15,000 is enough to educate a child. … I’m not sure there’s a scenario where $15,000 works in the long term. So within our planning horizon … we’re going to have to have a conversation with the community … about the case for why additional investments are needed. We’re also going to have to have a conversation amongst our community to say, ‘Should we be making a different set of choices, or what values do we hold most dear on the resources we do have’?” Click here to read more: