Credit Austin Beutner as an executive who isn’t afraid of a high-wire act.
Beutner did a stretch as a deputy mayor with broad authority over operations of the City of Los Angeles during the heart of the Great Recession. He generally won plaudits from the community of business and beyond for being sensible and effective in the role.
From there it was an interim role running the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, where he arrived amid a feud between the city-owned utility and the City Council. Most accounts indicate he managed to leave the DWP better than he found it.
Beutner’s civic portfolio includes a stint as publisher of the Los Angeles Times, where he brought a sense of engagement and expansion that was fresh and generally welcomed by folks around here. Not so with the Chicago-based ownership, which sent him home and proceeded to stumble from one management mishap to another on the way to the currently pending sale of the property.
Somewhere in all of that came a decision by Beutner to cut a run for mayor short. That was no doubt a disappointment, but also a clear sign that he doesn’t get on the high wire just for kicks. He’s apparently capable of checking his ego when good sense dictates.
That’s all been good training for Beutner’s next challenge as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District – a key concern for the community of business, which needs an educated and trained workforce for today’s economy.
It’s notable that Beutner hasn’t needed any of the jobs he’s taken on in the years since he made a fortune by taking the investment banking group Evercore Partners public in 2006.
He clearly wanted the top post at LAUSD, though – and give him points for making no bones about it. Beutner wasn’t too cool to go after the job.
It’s also notable that he got the job after showing patience and political skills amid challenges from an LAUSD insider and an outsider from across the country.
It happens that Beutner joined Vivian Ekchian, the LAUSD insider who challenged him for the job, and Laphonza Butler, president of Service Employees International Union Local 2015, in penning an Op-Ed that ran in these pages in January.
The trio laid out a five-point plan to reduce LAUSD’s rate of absenteeism, which stood around 14.3 percent, meaning 80,000 youngsters chronically absent from school.
It’s a problem with several challenges tangled at its core – finances, community engagement, support services for students and families, and the management and leadership of schools at the grassroots level.
There is no shortage of other challenges that come with the Beutner’s new job.
Perhaps none are as basic as the rate of absenteeism that he and his colleagues framed so well.
This school year is nearly over.
Beutner could get the next academic season off to a fine start with a clear update on LAUSD’s performance on absenteeism, and its plans to improve.
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