LOS ANGELES - A former Navy admiral has agreed to take the helm of the country's second-largest school district amid a power struggle among elected officials over control of the $13 billion system and debate on how well it educates about three-quarters of a million students.
Retired Vice Adm. David Brewer III, 60, was introduced Friday by the seven-member Board of Education, which voted unanimously in closed session Thursday to start contract negotiations with him for the superintendent's job.
Brewer, a 35-year veteran, will become the second black to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District and will continue a national trend of noneducators leading schools. He follows on the heels of former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who is expected to retire next month as superintendent.
The eight-month search for a new superintendent ends just days after the school district filed a lawsuit claiming a school overhaul bill giving Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa some power in the district is unconstitutional.
The law, scheduled to take effect in January, gives some authority to a council of mayors encompassing Los Angeles and more than two-dozen other cities served by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Although Brewer's resume and charismatic demeanor impressed members of the board and the selection committee charged with finding the district's next leader, he will be walking into a political firestorm. He said he is prepared: Interacting with members of Congress helped him hone his political skills.
Brewer oversaw the Military Sealift Command before retiring in March, managing a supply chain for equipment, fuel and ammunition for U.S. forces worldwide.
At the news conference, where he took on the tone of a preacher, Brewer said his DNA has prepared him well for the job - his entire family, including his wife and parents, are educators.
"You can't keep doing the same thing and expect different results," he said confidently of his goals for the district. "I am not a reformer, I am a transformer. I am going to transform this district. We are going to shoot for world class."
Among items on his agenda, he said, are to go to into the streets and into churches to recruit parents and community leaders to help children.
The district, with more than 727,000 students, more than 1,130 schools and 78,000 employees, is also plagued with a dismal graduation rate and an astronomical dropout rate.
Test scores, in the years since Romer inherited the district in 2000, have been slowly inching up. Romer is also behind a construction boom that is adding 150 new schools.
Brewer said he is also eager to meet Villaraigosa, who has expressed disappointment with being excluded from the hiring process.
The mayor is away on a trade mission to Asia.
"I want to partner with you, I want to join you in helping to educate the children of this district," he said.
Matt Szabo, Villaraigosa's spokesman, said his boss wants to reach out to Brewer regardless and learn of his qualifications and philosophy when he returns from Asia.
"The mayor is eager to discuss how he and the superintendent can build a forward-looking partnership to implement (the reform law) and to bring positive change for the students and families of L.A. Unified," Szabo said.
Brewer was born in Virginia and raised in Orlando, Fla. He currently lives in Virginia.