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Inglewood Schools In Crisis

Tom Dotan |
March 3, 2011 | 5:21 p.m. PST

Associate News Editor

Gary McHenry
Gary McHenry

Calling the situation in local schools “desperate,” the superintendent of Inglewood Unified revealed last week that the district will soon run out of cash and may need to lay off 25 percent of the district’s employees to avoid catastrophic deficits.

At a school board meeting Feb. 28, Superintendent Gary McHenry outlined the dire financial outlook for the schools—completely out of cash and a $20 million deficit by June which he says will require layoffs of about 300 of the district’s 1200 employees to balance. Failing these kinds of major reductions, the district may face state takeover.

“This is an awesome, daunting task,” McHenry said in an interview after the school board meeting. “Of the many years I’ve been a superintendant in several different districts, this situation is by far the worst.”

McHenry essentially offered an ultimatum to the district: either it makes significant layoffs to the workforce or it cancels programs such as in adult education and the school’s police force.

Several school board members chafed at the idea that so many of the cuts coming from schools will be from the educational side rather than administrative. The salaries of the superintendent and district officials were, in particular, brought up as areas ripe for cutbacks.

“There are no sacred cows here,” board member Johnny J. Young barked at McHenry during the session. “Everyone will be affected by the budget crisis and everyone needs to feel the pinch.”

A proposed item to eliminate 13 custodial positions met some vocal opposition by members of the janitors union. The measure failed to pass, allowing the employees to keep their jobs while the district was unable to save any of the money from a reduced staff.

In a successful effort to cut costs, class sizes in Inglewood Unified schools will be getting larger, the result of an across-the-board increase. Some elementary school classrooms will be up to 33 students per teacher, while high schools could be as high as 40.

The teacher’s union said they have accepted the reality that they are going to give up salary and benefits. But many remain wary of further pay-cuts and staff reductions.

“We’ve already given up getting raises for the past four years,” says Peter Somberg, Presedent of the Inglewood Teachers Association. “We are willing to work with the district to fix the problems, but why are our salaries affected and teachers potentially being laid off when fees for things like district consultants are staying the same?”

McHenry argued that major cutbacks have been taking place in the administrative side recently, including two executive directors and five other management positions. And he maintains that cuts in management salaries and positions are insignificant when compared to teacher expenses, which make up over two-thirds of the budget.

“Management comprises less than ten percent of the district budget, and it provides all the infrastructure for the schools," he said. "We’ve already cut the maximum number of positions on this end as we can. It just isn’t enough.”

Somberg points to a central problem of declining enrollment in Inglewood schools. In California, schools get money from the state government largely from daily attendance, and the low numbers in Inglewood’s public schools have been dragging down that income for years.

“We’re trying to have meetings in the community to find out why the kids aren’t coming to schools. It’s been tougher recently with charter schools nipping at our backs as well,” said Somberg.

The potential remains for a state takeover of the district if Inglewood Unified is unable to balance their budget for the coming year. Both administrators and teachers say they hope for the best before anything that drastic takes shape.

And much of that hope now rests on the cash from a short-term loan the district hopes to receive as well as state funding through a tax extension California Gov. Jerry Brown has pushed strongly for.

Larry Aubry, an Inglewoood resident and longtime education activist, is concerned that amid the discussion about budget crises, not enough attention is being paid to the students’ education.

“The further away the cuts are from the classroom, the better it is for the students,” Aubry said. “The classrooms need to be a protected and safe place. Once it becomes an unfriendly, hostile learning environment, it is impossible for students to learn.”


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