New LA schools chief: 'I'm an unconventional choice'

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Los Angeles Unified School District's new superintendent spent the morning trying to explain why his lack of experience managing a school district will not keep him from doing a good job. (KABC)

Los Angeles Unified School District's new superintendent spent the morning trying to explain why his lack of experience managing a school district will not keep him from doing a good job.

Austin Beutner, a former investment banker and deputy mayor of Los Angeles, held his first news conference as LAUSD superintendent Wednesday morning at Belmont High School.

The 58-year-old Beutner was named superintendent Tuesday on a 5-2 vote by the school board. Board members George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson voted against Beutner, blasting his dearth of experience in the education world.

"The premise that a non-educator is a better fit to lead a large educational organization because of limited managerial experience in outside business experiences is fundamentally flawed and politically motivated," McKenna wrote in a statement.

Meantime, United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents 34,000 LAUSD teachers, is concerned Beutner will approach the schools as he would a business and look to reduce costs.

"I think we can see cuts to kids and teachers and pensions and salaries and the lack of a sustainable plan for public schools," said Arlene Inouye, UTLA's secretary.

Beutner wouldn't rule out budget reductions but he did agree with union officials that the current funding level of about $15,000 per student is too low. He's taking over a school district facing serious financial issues. Enrollment numbers are sinking while the costs associated with employee pensions and benefits continue to rise.

As for his lack of experience in the education world, he said he's ready for the challenge.

"I can learn and will learn," he said. "I have to surround myself with people who know how this district works and know more about what happens in the classroom than I do."
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