Friday, February 19, 2010

Update: L.A. UNIFIFIED HEAD QUITS BOARD OF SCHOLASTIC INC: Ramon C. Cortines says he is cutting his ties to the educational publisher to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest. The firm supplies the district's primary reading intervention program.


By Howard Blume | LA Times | Full article:

10:59 PM PST, February 18, 2010 -- Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines resigned Thursday from the board of Scholastic Inc. after increased scrutiny of his relationship with the school-district vendor that paid him compensation worth more than $150,000 last year.

Scholastic provides the district's primary reading intervention program and has received more than $16 million over the last five years from contracts with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Cortines has recused himself from matters pertaining to Scholastic, but the company's substantial district business has complicated that approach.

In a statement, Cortines said he stepped down "to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest as I carry out my duties as superintendent of the nation's second-largest school district and to reaffirm my commitment to our students, parents, teachers and administrators."

Cortines' dual roles came under criticism from former school board members in a Times' article last week. Current school board members either declined to comment, said they were unaware of it or defended the superintendent.

One school board member asked Cortines this week to review his service with Scholastic during a previously scheduled closed-door meeting. The ensuing discussion lasted five minutes, Cortines said, and no board member pressed the matter further.

Board President Monica Garcia said last week that she saw nothing of interest in the Scholastic association. On Thursday, she reiterated: "I have never met a person with more integrity than Ray Cortines."

Cortines said he spoke to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for 45 minutes about the issue -- at the mayor's instigation. Cortines said Villaraigosa made no demands.

The veteran superintendent, who has served on the Scholastic board for 15 years, disclosed his financial relationship with the New York-based company on standard government forms. It did not violate district policy, officials said, as long as he recused himself from any district matter involving the educational publishing company. And, the school board that hired him apparently never discussed Scholastic with him -- although Cortines said Thursday that they knew of the connection.

District officials said Cortines made no decisions affecting the company .


Selected quotes:

On Thursday, Cortines said he became upset over the implicit impugning of his integrity.

CORTINES: "There's no doubt I was angry because everybody has known," he said. "For it to be raised and made an issue of two years after I came to the district -- I was taken aback.   It's an uphill battle to pass the parcel tax, and I would not want to be a part of the reason in the long run that we couldn't come together"

SCHOLASTIC CEO RICHARD ROBINSON: "We will miss his wise counsel and his deep understanding of the critical issues we face as a nation in our efforts to improve the quality of education for all children"

MAT TAYLOR, FREMONT HS TEACHER AND UTLA SOUTH AREA CHAIR: "It's not cynical to think that part of the reason for the reconstitution at Fremont was to bring more Scholastic programs to L.A. Unified through Fremont High. There's a financial agenda that people are afraid to talk about that guides what happens in public education."

CORTINES: "I made a decision. I have it behind me, and I'm moving forward."

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