Tensions continue to flare between parents, stakeholders, community members and County Administrators as they continue to demand local control of Inglewood and Oakland Unified School District’s be returned to voters during a recent Los Angeles County Board of Education (LACOE) meeting held Sept. 21.
Oakland community groups joined with parents and community leaders from Inglewood in Southern California 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 (FCMAT).
Newly elected Inglewood Assemblymember Tina McKinnor convened a Town Hall in conjunction with Inglewood Unified Sept. 15 to provide updates to the community on if the state acted on a request made by IUSD County Administrator Dr. Erika Torres and Inglewood Mayor James Butts to restructure the debt owed under the emergency loan provided under SB 533 given the state 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. It’s important to note that the state receivership of IUSD is not exclusively about the emergency loan,” said Asm. McKinnor. “It is about the structural financial and management problems that continue to exist. At the heart of the receivership 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 led to the closure and consolidation of multiple schools in the district over the last few years.
“For the 2002-03 school year, IUSD had a student population of nearly 18,000. The 2022-23 IUSD student population is estimated at around 7,000 or 39% of its peak enrollment and my work on 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,” said McKinnor. “Districts with students that qualify for free/reduced school meals, students in foster care and English language learner students, receive additional financial support.”
Despite the progress in receiving more funding per student, IUSD remained firm in its closure of Warren Lane Elementary School, which was the last elementary school in the Morningside Park community of Inglewood, which triggered the letter written by Butts and Torres to restructure the loan.
Residents protested earlier in the year at Inglewood Unified district office where many were put off by the “process” by which the schools were closed. Under the terms of AB 1840, IUSD would receive $10 million if they created a school closure committee to address the declining enrollment by conducting a survey on the work needed at each school site then make recommendations on closures and/or consolidation as a cost-saving measure.
At the time, McKinnor was campaigning for the expiring term of the previous 62and Assemblymember’s term and reiterated to the community she wanted the district to follow a fair process in order to close the schools.
The community was outraged when they learned during the Town Hall that the sole authority to close schools was with Dr. Debra Duardo, Superintendent of LACOE.
Asm. McKinnor, was asked why the district put forth the effort to create a school closure committee, if Duardo had final say on which schools to close, and we did not receive comment at the time this article was published.
Those in attendance continue to press for the return of local control as homeowners continue to be assessed for nearly $500 million in school bonds taken out in 1999, 2012, and 2020 to fund repairs and improvements despite the understanding that more closures and/or consolidations would take place.
We reached out to several individuals who have been involved in the school closure process to understand why they believe it is vital to regain local control.
“Local control provides assurance that parents and community members are involved and engaged in their local school district as owners, rather than consumers of public education.,” said Taj Powell, who led the efforts to keep Warren Lane open after the closure was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Ideally, school board advocates for the parents and community when decisions are made about children’s education and they provide citizen governance for what public schools need in accordance with parents and the community’s beliefs and values. Local control means assurance that taxpayers are getting the most out of their tax dollars. Without local control, the members that you elect to the school board, have no real decision-making power therefore there is no controlling how money is spent within the school district even though it is your property tax that is funding the district.”
Community advocate Yolanda Davidson, was one of the initial members of the community who urged IUSD to delay the closure of Warren Lane, however, the district gave the community one year to bring up enrollment at the school which was difficult due to the pandemic, however, she remains optimistic.
“I believe Asm. McKinnor is committed to bringing the district out of receivership, however, the community needs to show up to meetings and make their voices heard,” said Davidson. “LACOE and IUSD displayed a bunch of graphs and gave a lot of side talk, however, they do not have a serious strategy to address the declining enrollment throughout the district.”
Fredrisha Dixon has been working with organizers from Inglewood and Oakland over the past couple of months to organize attending the Sept. 21 LACOE board meeting when they learned FCMAT would be attending the meeting.
“It is important for residents to resume local control because no one will educate our children better than we will. Local control is necessary for the success of our school district, educators, and children,” said Dixon. “No one is as invested in the well-being of our children than we are and that is evidenced by the fact that since we have been in receivership IUSD schools have declined in every way possible: academically and with reduced enrollment. The neglect of Inglewood schools by the state and county is intentional as there is an obvious attack on public schools, especially in Black and Brown communities.”
The community demanded “FCMAT change its racist policy course or, if they refuse, (we) demand that Governor Newsom hold this state agency accountable for their decades of racist public school closures and colonization of Black and Brown communities,” according to a press statement that was released prior to the protest.
In a September 21 letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, coalition members wrote:
“Beyond Oakland and Inglewood, a much longer list of school, early education and community college districts, almost entirely majority Black and Brown districts, have been under the thumb of FCMAT for decades, forced into austerity measures by an entirely unaccountable entity led by an overwhelmingly white leadership team (comprised of 22 people that include 20 white and 2 Latinx individuals). FCMAT itself says there are a ‘historic’ number of districts on its list this year – all majority Black and Brown districts. FCMAT does not exert this level of control over any white majority school districts in California.”
FCMAT often requires school districts to close schools even when these actions do not save funds and overrules attempts by these districts, and parents to find alternatives to save funds apart from closing schools, the press statement said.
Asm. McKinnor shares the frustration of students, parents, teachers and staff of IUSD at the pace of the receivership and after ten years of state control, the Assemblymember noted that everyone is suffering from ‘receivership fatigue’.
“The reality is that up to five schools will need to be closed in the coming years due to declining student enrollment and 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,” said McKinnor.
The district has not publicly identified which five will be slated for closure next.
Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist who appears weekly in the Los Angeles Wave newspaper and can be reached at email@example.com.