A lot of Inglewood Unified School District employees showed up to Wednesday night’s school board meeting. Some made lots of noise. Others were quiet. All were upset at the latest proposal to cut their pay in order to help close a $7 million budget deficit and keep the district from running out of money early next year.
Maria Lopez, a teacher at Inglewood High School, joined protesters with whistles and cow bells outside her campus auditorium where the board met. She complained that teachers already shoulder five unpaid days off this school year.
“We are taking a big pay cut in benefits and salary. We can’t afford any of these cuts,” Lopez said. By the end of the night the school board had approved the pay cut.
The stakes are high for Lopez and other employees as they grapple with shrinking paychecks to meet their living expenses. The stakes for the school district are arguably higher. The district’s solvency hangs in the balance. Inglewood Unified may run out of money to meet its expenses as soon as March.
School districts can’t declare bankruptcy. Instead, California legislators issue a bailout loan with a high price for the school district: its independence. The locally elected school board and the appointed superintendent would be stripped of their authority and a state overseer would make decisions about the district.
Inglewood Unified board member Arnold Butler says the pay cut proposal would go a long way toward preventing a state take over.
“The district is involved in a number of activities. This happens to be one of the many strategies we’re going to utilize to avoid that and to forestall any kind of takeover by the state. The state is not interested in taking us over,” Butler said.
The trouble is, many of the key steps toward insolvency have been set in motion. In July the district’s school board requested a state loan while saying that it could still avoid bankruptcy.
Earlier in the day Butler and his fellow board members met to discuss the details of state takeover.
The president of the Inglewood Teachers Association has welcomed a state takeover as a way to start from a clean slate. Others have said that stripping local control of the school district could make matters worse because the decision-makers wouldn’t know what the district needs.