Wednesday, July 29, 2009

WILLIAM R. “BILL” ANTON DIES AT 85; educator was L.A. Unified's first Latino superintendent. 'Heart and soul' of the district rose through the ranks to take top post during a time of fiscal crisis.

William R.  "Bill" Anton

Anton in 1992. He began his career as a teacher at Rowan Elementary in East Los Angeles. – PHOTO Los Angeles Times

By Howard Blume  in the LA Times

July 29, 2009  - William R. "Bill" Anton, who rose through the ranks to become the first Latino superintendent of schools in Los Angeles, died Tuesday morning, according to friends and the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was 85.

Anton had suffered from declining health in recent years and did not speak at a 2007 district ceremony in his honor, but associates remembered him as a genial and strategic fighter who looked out for minority children in a school system that did not always have high expectations for them."Bill was the heart and soul of the district," said Peggy Barber, who met Anton as a parent and later worked for him. "He knew every principal by sight and name. He knew every person in the building. He was as kind and generous as anyone could be, but he could be tough when he had to be."

Anton began his career as a teacher at Rowan Elementary in East Los Angeles, according to district records, slowly and steadily winning the respect of colleagues as he earned promotions to higher positions. Anton filled a groundbreaking role in developing the district's Title 1 program, which was at the time a new experimental effort to help low-income and minority students.

In that capacity and others, Anton groomed future district leaders who would follow him into top positions. Jim Morris, chief of staff to Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, recalled taking an administrative training course for teachers given by Anton, who was then a deputy superintendent.

"Mr. Anton said if you want to be an administrator you have to find out who the hardest-working person in that school is, and you have to work twice as hard," Morris said.

A Garfield High School graduate who supervised schools in East Los Angeles, Anton championed equity and a fair distribution of resources for Latino students. But he was liked in all communities, said those who worked with him.

"Parents always had access to his office," said Barber, who is a district lobbyist. "And he treated parents as equals. He would tell the principals that he expected everyone to have a PTA and they would be evaluated on the strength of the PTA."

Many district insiders and community leaders were sorely disappointed when the school board chose outsider Leonard Britton over Anton as superintendent in 1987. After three years, Britton resigned, never having won over an L.A. Unified bureaucracy that included Anton. To much acclaim, Anton became schools chief in July 1990, but he was immediately confronted with union unrest, budget deficits and a city elite that had grown dissatisfied with the school system.

"It was Bill's job to save the district from going into bankruptcy," said Dominic Shambra, an administrator who worked closely with Anton. "It was a difficult time, much like it is today."

Anton remained as superintendent only 26 months, retiring at the age of 68 in September 1992. He said his greatest accomplishment as superintendent was simply holding the district together in spite of a fiscal crisis that forced spending cuts of more than $1 billion during his tenure.

The factors that induced him to leave, he said at the time, included a school board that often would not listen to him and would act improperly unilaterally, as well as a teachers union that he said had too much influence.

A full obituary of Anton will appear in Thursday's print edition and at

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