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Los Angeles schools Supt. Austin Beutner had a problem. He was firm in his stance that reopening schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic would depend on rapid, extensive coronavirus testing. But but no city, county or state program was available to provide or pay for it at the scale he thinks is needed in the nation’s second-largest school district.

So he turned to a former business partner, Sky Dayton, who helped him put together an audacious plan: The Los Angeles Unified School District would carry out its own testing, the largest such school district-led initiative in the country.

Beutner approved a $48.9-million contract with Dayton’s new company, SummerBio, using emergency powers he has invoked since March because of the pandemic. The district’s regular, often lengthy procurement process typically involves a formal request for proposals and traditional competitive bidding.

But at the start of the pandemic, the Los Angeles school board set aside customary guardrails to give Beutner the ability to act quickly — powers he has exercised repeatedly, including in efforts to distribute meals and purchase computers and Wi-Fi hot spots.

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