L.A. schools chief Ramon Cortines retiring

LOS ANGELES "If I knew then what I know now I am not sure I would have taken the job," said Cortines. "I have cut budgets throughout my career, but nothing like this."

Cortines says cutting $1.5 billion from the budget, while putting reforms in place, was the biggest challenge he has ever faced. The last two years of budget cuts and rapid reform have been exhausting, he said.

He has won praise during his 18-month term at the district's helm for trying to appease all sides. Aside from the major budget cuts, he has presided over the layoffs of nearly 3,000 teachers, as well as thousands of support personnel, which sparked numerous raucous rallies outside district headquarters.

He started as a sixth-grade teacher in Monterey and moved on to superintendent posts in Pasadena, San Jose, and San Francisco, he ran New York City's Department of Education, and he worked as an education adviser in the Clinton administration.

The 78-year-old says he is ready to retire, but the former school teacher isn't slowing down just yet. He toured Joseph Pomeroy Widney High School Thursday morning where special education students are attending summer school.

Looking back at his tenure, he and his team are proud of several accomplishments. He says school safety is better, attendance is up, drop-out rates are down, and they were able to balance the budget last year.

But even with all of those accomplishments, Cortines says there is still a lot more work that needs to be done.

"I did say that I was going to help get the budget for this coming year," said Cortines. "I will also continue the reform that I have put in place."

Cortines says it's time to step aside and find a leader who can stay for the long haul, saying the district needs to have continuity and accountability.

"I think it needs to be handed off to somebody that will make a commitment to stay five to six years. I am 78 today and you do have to hang it up," he said.

Many district observers believe the next chief of schools will be Deputy Superintendent John Deasy. He is expected to arrive at the district Aug. 2.

City News Service and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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