Inglewood Unified union leaders and a school board member say California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction is set to announce on Wednesday his pick to run the Inglewood Unified School District for the state. It’s the result of the school district’s rescue from bankruptcy.
Inglewood teachers union president Peter Somberg said State Superintendent Tom Torlakson met with him and other district union leaders on Saturday.
“He said that he has someone appointed, someone chosen for the position of state administrator for our district,” Somberg said.
The announcement is the latest development in a years-long process in which the school board and the superintendent it hired failed to steer the district’s budget away from bankruptcy. Despite recent cuts the 12,000 student district faced a $9 million deficit this year that it expected to balloon by the spring.
Chris Graeber, with the union that represents Inglewood Unified’s classified workers, said his members have a vested interest in a new leader who can restore public confidence in the district.
“A large proportion of our members live in Inglewood so they’re either parents, grandparents, alumni of this district,” Graeber said.
Torlakson’s office declined to comment for this story and members of Inglewood Unified’s board were not available to talk. Inglewood Unified is the first Southland school district the state’s taken over in nearly 20 years.
A student boards a bus maintained by the Inglewood Unified School District on February 28, 2012.
It’s official. California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction sent a letter Thursday to Ingelwood’s elected school board members telling them the state’s taking over the school district.
State Superintendent Tom Torlakson addressed the one-page letter to Trina Williams, the school board president. It says the state law that authorized the bailout loan for the district also requires the state superintendent to assume the legal rights, duties, and powers of Inglewood Unified’s school board.
The union that represents classified workers said it hoped state receivership would mean a rollback of a 15 percent employee pay cut approved by board members days before the state takeover.
Inglewood education activist D’Artagnan Scorza says people he’s spoken with are looking beyond the state takeover. “Regardless of whoever is here, regardless of whether or not it’s the board, regardless of whether or not it’s the state, we ultimately have a responsibility to our children and to their future,” Scorza says.
Inglewood Unified aide Trina Hubbard was one of many district employees who urged the school board not to cut employee pay.
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.