Lately, when we read reports about the Inglewood Unified School District, we have to wonder if any one cares. Inglewood Unified once considered the jewel of the South Bay, now is unfairly thought of as another underperforming urban school district.
The School District was taken over by the California Department of Education in September 2012 when Senate Bill (SB) 533 was signed. The bill authored by Senator Rod Wright claimed that the school district would not be able to pay its bills in March 2013 and so the state legislature approved an emergency loan for up to 55 million dollars to prevent the district from becoming insolvent. Ironically, the day the bill was signed, the School Board submitted a balanced budget plan to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, but, it was too late to rescind SB 533 and Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, took over the school district.
When a school district goes into receivership, the community relinquishes all authority over how its schools are run, but Torlakson appeared receptive to listening to community input and promised to put into place skilled administrators and improve the quality of education in the schools. He campaigned for Measure GG, a school bond that would provide up to 90 million dollars to improve Inglewood School facilities and the community responded with 86% approval. So despite the stigma of receivership, it appeared that Inglewood schools were in competent hands and poised for a brighter future.
I became concerned when the administrator appointed by Torlakson resigned under a cloud after serving only two months. I was alarmed when after months of not hiring a replacement, Torlakson’s interim administrator announced that they were discontinuing the Early Childhood Development, Adult Education and High School Continuation programs. These are essential programs to many people in the community. As a result, I joined with other concerned community members and the Education Equity Coalition was formed. We wanted to know exactly how the State was managing Inglewood schools and to assure what was being done was in the best interest of the students. What we found bordered on gross mismanagement and inadequate leadership by Mr. Torlakson.
Superintendent Torlakson and his hand picked team have made decisions which have led to an 18.8 million dollar deficit for the 2012-2013 school year. They haven’t developed a fiscal recovery plan and according to the law that is the first thing they should have done before spending a cent. They borrowed 29 million dollars which will take 20 years to repay and there does not appear to be a financial justification for what they borrowed. Plans for Measure GG Bonds for improving school facilities which Torlakson said was so important, have yet to be implemented.
So while the Inglewood School District is being turned upside down by deficits, unjustified loans, elimination of jobs and discontinuation of vital programs like Early Childhood Education, Adult Education, and Continuation High School, Torlakson has avoided accountability for his poor decision making. The interest payment on the 29 million dollars they borrowed will reduce education funds in the school district between $500,000 and 1 million dollars per year for 20 years. The Education Equity Coalition approached local legislators for help to convince the Department of Education to accept responsibility for their mistakes and develop a restitution plan to make up for squandering funds critical to the fiscal health and operations of Inglewood Schools. Assembly member Holly Mitchell lent her support by asking Superintendent Torlakson to meet with the Education Equity Coalition. He was available to meet with the community to gain its support for Measure GG, but he is not available to explain the current state of affairs at Inglewood Unified.
So, what do we do if we care about what is going on in the public schools in Inglewood? What do we do if we want the best educational opportunities for our children? The community cannot recall the California Department of Education like it is able to do with School Board members. With the Education Department at the helm, the only thing the community can do is join together and collectively express its outrage about how the Department is performing and draw attention to how badly the school district has been managed by them. Torlakson is an elected state official so he will have to explain to voters statewide why he has failed to stabilize Inglewood’s finances. The state is expected to do a better job than the local school board and that is why they are given full authority when they take over a school district. If he cannot provide Inglewood with competent leadership and effective administrative expertise, when the next school district goes into receivership, how can a different result be expected?
On August 24 at 10 AM the Education Equity Coalition is conducting a community forum at the First Church of God – 9550 Crenshaw Boulevard. This is an opportunity for the Inglewood Unified School District community to get a better understanding of the issues and let the Department of Education know that Inglewood will not be quiet about how it has managed its schools. This is a first and necessary step in returning IUSD to fiscal solvency and more importantly to ensuring that the children of Inglewood get the quality education they deserve. Let us put the children first! Let us hold accountable those responsible for preparing them to compete in the global economy.