Activist wants NFL teams to help with school district debt

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By John W. Davis

Contributing Writer

INGLEWOOD — After standing outside of SoFi Stadium for nearly 12 hours Sept. 13, Morris Phillips was steadfast in his belief that the Los Angeles Rams should do more monetarily to help the children of Inglewood and the Inglewood Unified School District.

Holding a sign that read: “Education First. Support the Inglewood Unified School District,” Phillips is a self-described community activist.

“People feel powerless,” Phillips said. “One person can have more power than 500 people.”

Phillips is a community activist behind the website communitybenefitsagreement.com.

He is asking that a community benefits agreement be drawn up between the Rams, the Los Angeles Chargers and the institutions that helped finance the construction of SoFi Stadium.

Phillips said the agreement would specifically provide the necessary $25 to $30 million needed for the Inglewood Unified School District to pay back the emergency loans from 2012 that landed the district in state receivership.

The district has been under state control ever since and is currently managed by Los Angeles County Office of Education appointee Erika Torres, who has been appointed county administrator for the school district.

Leading up to the season opener at SoFi Stadium, the Rams held a week of community initiatives to tackle social injustices like educational inequities and food insecurity in Inglewood.

The Rams held two student-focused book, backpack and T-shirt giveaways with the school district and hosted a mobile drive-through food drive at SoFi Stadium.

The team also recently announced a $100,000 sponsorship to pay for City Year Los Angeles to mentor and provide academic and social emotional support for students at Crozier Middle School in Inglewood during the 2020-21 school year.

So far Phillips hasn’t found a lot of people who support his proposal.

“I have mixed emotions,” said Inglewood resident Diane Sambrano, who is also a local education activist. “My take on our educational system is that it needs a lot of work and it has nothing to do with money.”

Sambrano grew up in Inglewood, graduating from Morningside High School. She is a historian who is documenting what Inglewood once was, and hopefully what it can become in the future.

“We used to be considered among the best school districts in the South Bay,” Sambrano said.

More than money, Sambrano believes students in the Inglewood Unified School District need inspiration and encouragement.

“Helping the district should always be more than giving away T-shirts … and trying to buy loyalty,” Sambrano said. “It is better that they actually contribute to the real things of education (like) textbooks.”

After years of community rallies, organizers who sought housing justice, were eventually rewarded with rent control in Inglewood. However, those same advocates believe the city is still in the midst of gentrification that they contend started after the ground-breaking ceremony at SoFi Stadium in 2016.

Feeling priced out, community members believe many long-term residents have had to move from Inglewood over the past several years, before they could personally benefit from the city’s revitalization as a sports and entertainment destination.

Mayor James T. Butts Jr. was instrumental in helping the city of Inglewood come to a community benefits agreement with the Los Angeles Clippers, who recently received final approval to build the Inglewood Basketball and Entertainment Center near the intersection of Prairie Avenue and Century Boulevard, across from SoFi Stadium.

 The Clippers’ $100 million community benefits package is the largest ever connected to a sports venue. Of the money, $75 million will be used for an affordable housing loan fund and $25 million will be divided among after-school programs, services for senior citizens, the Inglewood public library and additional housing initiatives.

However, the Clippers community benefits agreement will not go into effect until after the Inglewood Basketball and Entertainment Center opens in 2024.

Butts said comparing what the Clippers and the Rams are going to do for the community is not appropriate.

“Stan Kroenke put his generational wealth and invested it here in a nine-square mile city and the stadium was supposed to cost $1.8 billion that ended up costing $5 billion plus,” Butts said. “His return on investment is stretched out so far beyond whatever he could have expected, but still he’s here and he’s pledged his family to be here.”

“Everybody is not situated similarly. The Clippers Arena costs $1.8 billion tops, so everyone is not the same, every billionaire is not the same and just to say they did, you did that. That’s just not fair,” Butts said.

In addition to recent community initiatives, Butts said the Rams previously made an impact in Inglewood, one that specifically benefits children.

“More than two years ago, they were building playgrounds, more than two years ago, their players, although they were playing in the Coliseum, were coming here to interface with our children. This is a continuation of the commitment they’ve made to be partners here with the city of Inglewood and the children of our city,” Butts added.

Phillips believes the path ahead is straightforward. He said when you combine $25 to $30 million in community benefits from the teams and banks making money at SoFi Stadium, with a mitigation plan, the influx of capital will put Inglewood schools in the necessary financial standing to better the district, and return to local control after the global coronavirus pandemic subsides.

Phillips said he will continue rallying outside SoFi Stadium to bring light and awareness to the need for community benefits agreement, specifically improving the Inglewood Unified School District.

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