La Tijera Middle School. Since the opening the enrollment has doubled.
According to school officials, the district is financially sound at present, so is the bailout premature?
Inglewood Unified School Board president, Trina Williams and member, Arnold Butler, felt that they were blindsided by a recently signed senate bill, which will garner them a $55 million emergency loan but will allow the state to take over the district. Williams and Butler said that while the board did ask for the loan via State Senator Rod Wright, it was only a tentative request… a “just in case,” if all of their other efforts at solvency failed by January 2013. Wright, however, said the action could not be avoided.
“The Inglewood School board did a resolution, asking the state for a loan,” Wright explained.
“I acted on their resolution, introduced a bill and then, the governor signed the bill that I did. I can’t argue whether they may or may not have made it. I can argue that the Legislature adjourns for the year on August 31.
“We really don’t convene until January. [But] let’s suppose they went insolvent in December. Let’s suppose they went insolvent in February. Passing a bill and getting it signed takes time. It’s not something that can just be done in a week…”
But board members said they didn’t know that Senate Bill 533 would go into effect as soon as the governor signed it. Now with the new legislation they will not get the chance to implement the solvency strategies they had in place so that they could maintain control over their own district.
“We presented a budget as of the 14th of September,” Butler told the Sentinel this week.
“And, that budget along with a plan of action, what they call a stabilization plan would determine the plight of [the next] four months. Reduction in textbooks, reduction in staff, rollback in salaries, sale of assets… all of these things along with basic cuts that we’ve done already… all that collectively is in our stabilization plan.
“If they were allowed to be fully implemented we would have enough money to finish the [school] year.”
Not so, said Wright.
“Simply put, Inglewood ran out of money,” he explained.
“A school district has an obligation to have a certain amount of cash reserved and a projection that they’re going to be able to pay their bills going forward. Inglewood, upon financial reviews could not do that.”
But Inglewood Unified has money, according to Butler. The problem lies within obstacles to getting it in their hands, like bonds earmarked for specific use and problems securing loans from other sources. The most formidable, he said, is a state dealing with its own budget crisis.
“The state of California owes the district about $31 million,” Butler said, “and wants to loan us $29 million. If we use $18 million for our expenses, we’d still have $13 million left. “[But] we now have a state that doesn’t have its own money. So, therefore money that’s due the district is deferred, in other words we get an IOU from the state instead of the actual money… ”
Yes, said Wright, however, “The challenge becomes for Inglewood, [despite] the amount of money that they’re owed, they still would be insolvent. The people who [conducted their financial reviews] didn’t fail to count the money that is due on a deferral. That was taken into account when they were calculating their financial condition.”
What the two sides do agree upon however, is what brought about Inglewood Unified’s financial woes in the first place. It was mainly an influx of charter schools that have taken a large portion of the district’s students. The missing students have caused a huge decline in revenue, despite the fact that operational costs remain the same, both Wright and Butler told the Sentinel.
“If you have a classroom of about 25 students and six of them leave, the reduction in costs is marginal. You may not have to have those extra books or supplies but your light bill will be the same, you’ll still have to pay the teachers, janitors and so on,” said Wright.
In essence, he said, IUSD has to do less with more.
“We have three strong [charters],” Butler said.
“Green Dot, which is the biggest bully of the charter school group… tackled L.A. Unified District with the same tactics as they brought to Inglewood. We have been bombarded with charter school applications.
“Our district is small, why such an interest in Inglewood? Because of money. Most charter schools are for profit. But money from the state that goes to charters doesn’t go to public school.”
The charters also get exempt from all of the cumbersome mandates, like union contracts for example, that Inglewood Unified has to face, Butler said.
According to Williams, the California Department of Education is looking for an administrator.
“So once that happens that person will come down and assume the responsibility of not only the board of directors but the superintendent of Inglewood Unified School District,” she said.
“What I want to tell the community and the parents is that our focus has always been on student achievement and learning and character building. I’m hoping that will not be impacted…”