By Emilie St. John
INGLEWOOD — Tensions continue to flare between parents, stakeholders, community members and county education administrators as local residents demand a return to local control of Inglewood public schools
Joined by their counterparts from Oakland — a school district that also finds itself under state oversight —residents made their voices heard at a Los Angeles County Board of Education meeting Sept. 21.
Oakland community groups joined with parents and community leaders from Inglewood to demand an end to state-imposed school closings and decades of budget cutbacks at the annual board meeting of the state-financed nonprofit Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team.
Prior to the meeting Assemblywoman Tina McKinnor, D-Inglewood, convened a town hall meeting Sept. 15 to provide updates to the community on a request made by Inglewood school administrator Erika Torres and Inglewood Mayor James Butts to restructure the debt the Inglewood Unified School District owes the state since the state has recorded a record surplus over the last fiscal year.
“The 2022-23 state budget did not include a cancellation or repayment of the district’s emergency loan,” McKinnor told the audience Sept. 15. “It’s important to note that the state receivership of IUSD is not exclusively about the emergency loan.”
Rather, she said, it is about the financial and management problems that continue to exist within the district.
At the heart of the receivership, McKinnor said, is the fact that the district is suffering declining student enrollment at a level not seen in the district’s history.
The declining enrollment is what has led to the closure and consolidation of multiple schools in the district over the last few years.
McKinnor said that 20 years ago, during the 2002-03 school year, the Inglewood Unified School District had a student population of nearly 18,000. The 2022-23 student population is estimated at around 7,000 or 39% of its peak enrollment.
McKinnor said that this year’s state budget included the largest investment in public education in state history, with districts receiving a minimum of $25,000 per student. Districts with students that qualify for free or reduced school meals, students in foster care and English language learner students receive additional financial support.”
Despite receiving more funds per student, the Inglewood Unified School District remains firm in its decision to close Warren Lane Elementary School, which was the last elementary school in the Morningside Park neighborhood.
The decision to close Lane Elementary triggered the letter written by Butts and Torres to restructure the loan.
Residents protested that decision earlier this year with many complaining about the process by which schools were closed. Under the terms of Assembly Bill 1840, a bill approved by the state Legislature in 2017, the Inglewood school district would receive $10 million by creating a school closure committee to address declining enrollment that included a survey on the work needed at each school site.
When running for office earlier this year, McKinnor told the community she wanted the district to use a “fair process” in determining schools to be closed. Many attending the Sept. 15 town hall meeting were outraged when they learned that the sole authority to close schools was up to Debra Duardo, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which oversees all public school districts in the county.
Residents have sought a return to local control of the Inglewood Unified School District since 2012, when the district fell under state receivership after receiving a state loan of $60 million to avoid bankruptcy.
After several years of being overseen by administrators appointed by the state superintendent of schools, oversight was transferred to the county Office of Education in 2018 and Torres became the district administrator.
Although district voters still elect school board members, the board members have little authority and serve in mostly an advisory capacity.
At the Sept. 15 town hall meeting, McKinnor told residents that if student enrollment continued to decline, as many as five more schools could be closed.
“No one wants to see a school close, but if this action is required to get the district back to financial stability, I am asking publicly for the following: detailed relocation plan, including transportation needs to make sure that every student’s needs are accounted for and an infrastructure investment plan to make sure the remaining campuses are among the best facilities in the county,” McKinnor said.
Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist covering the areas of Carson, Compton, Inglewood and Willowbrook. Send tips to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.