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Educator with local roots picked to take over troubled Inglewood Unified

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

California’s State Superintendent announced Wednesday he’s chosen Kent Taylor, the current superintendent of Southern Kern Unified, to take over administration of the fiscally troubled Inglewood Unified School District.

This summer the school district requested and state legislators approved a bailout loan that kept the district from insolvency and stripped the 12,000-student district of local control.

The announcement caps a years-long process - led by the board of education and local superintendent - of budget cutting, loans, LA County oversight, and finally a state bailout. Inglewood Unified’s board room was standing-room-only with education activists, employee union leaders, and elected officials. They were there to witness the school district lose local control for the first time in its 58-year history.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson told the group state oversight should be as short as possible, maybe a couple of years. “Our most important goal is to put the district back on it’s financial footing, sound financial footing,” he said.

Torlakson praised Taylor as an able administrator. Dressed in a dark suit, Taylor stepped up to the podium and said he’d quit his job in Kern County to help turn around the Inglewood school district. He connected with the audience by listing the Inglewood schools he’d attended as a child and some of the teachers he’d had. That elicited ‘uh-huhs’ from some in the room. Taylor also took time to praise the hard work by district employees.

“We’ve got some good things going on. Yeah, do we need to figure out some fiscal things, yes we do. But I’m the guy that’s going to come and work with everyone,” Taylor said.

Inglewood-area State Senator Rod Wright joined Taylor and Torlakson behind the lectern. Wright wrote the bill that authorized the state bailout. He said Inglewood’s financial troubles are the result of the state’s financial crisis.

“I can’t say enough about the school board and the superintendent who did a yeoman’s job running this district,” Wright said.

A school board's most important responsibility is oversight of the district budget.  The Inglewood Unified school board will still hold regular meetings but may not vote on matters affecting the district. They remain advisors. Board member Arnold Butler said he looks forward to that position. “This is a break. And now it’s time to work with this individual because our goals and objectives is the same: what’s best for the children, that’s the bottom line,” Butler said. All but one of Inglewood Unified’s board members attended the announcement.

After the announcement board members took their pictures with the State Superintendent and a greeting line formed for Kent Taylor.

Ruben Gonzalez, president of the union that represents the district’s adult education teachers, bristled at the thought of board members remaining involved in district matters, even as advisors.

“There’s a sense that a lot of the problem was brought on by them so why keep them around. But I understand the other side too. They are part of the community and they were elected and they have the right to be there,” Gonzalez said.

Other union leaders said they’re taking a “wait and see” approach as they urge the new administrator to roll back a 15% pay cut approved last month. All agree on one part of the formula for turning around the district: recruiting students back to the district. There’s disagreement over the best way to do that. Some urged becoming cheerleaders for the district’s good work, others said the spigot of wasted district funds needs to be turned off, while others said the district needs a top-to-bottom change in how it treats parents and students.