INGLEWOOD — State officials warned the warring factions on the Inglewood Unified School District board this week that future funding may be jeopardized if board members do not resolve who controls the district.
The warning came after a new majority on the board tried last week to suspend Supt. Rex Fortune and remove the two other members from leadership posts on the board. Until the dispute is resolved, state education officials will recognize Fortune as superintendent.
While the battle for control of the district continued, participants in the dispute as well as parents and teachers expressed frustration, anger and embarrassment over the situation. Some said the district will have trouble recruiting quality people because of the turmoil.
Several participants and observers said the fight stems from attempts by Inglewood Mayor Edward Vincent and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Roosevelt Dorn to exert control over the district and the jobs it provides--a charge that Vincent and Dorn deny. All three members of the new anti-Fortune majority on the school board have been supported by Vincent in past elections.
Both Fortune and Assemblyman Curtis Tucker (D-Inglewood) have said in interviews that Vincent and Dorn approached them together to request that Fortune appoint a friend of Vincent as a principal. Tucker said he was asked by Vincent and Dorn to intervene when Fortune balked at the mayor's request.
Fortune, who says the board has offered him no reasons for his removal, insists that the board majority wants to remove him solely for his refusal to accede to Vincent's demands.
"There are about 1,700 jobs in the school district," Fortune said. "Potentially, that's a lot of patronage. I don't have any clue that he (Vincent) is interested in anything other than patronage.
"When I resisted the appointment of his friend, relations between the mayor and myself never developed beyond that point. I believe that incident is at the heart of the issue. He decided then he needed someone who would obey his dictates. This is not about improving the schools, but about capricious, whimsical and illegal dismissal of the superintendent. The board majority has already said they want to reassign my assistant to director of maintenance. If they succeed in this, where will they stop? Who will be next? No one in the district will be secure."
"I am not involved in any plot to control the school board," Vincent responded. "The City Council and school board are separate agencies. This sort of thing tears the city apart. I don't want to see it happen. This is a total nightmare. There's no question this is badly hurting the image of school board and the city as a whole."
Judge Dorn also denied that he tried to influence Fortune. "That's an out and out lie," he said.
Attorneys for the state department of education warned this week that the board may be jeopardizing state and federal funds for the district if it cannot decide who is in control of the board. The Inglewood district relies on the state for nearly 80% of its funds, and draws an additional 13% from the federal government.
"If they have the wrong president, that calls the funding into question," said Joseph Symkowick, chief counsel for the state department of education.
One school administrator who declined to be named said that teachers and administrators alike are on edge, and said that several who have spoken out against majority members or their supporters fear for their jobs.
The teachers' union, meanwhile, remains staunchly opposed to Fortune, but a growing number of tachers--both union members and non-members--are rallying to his cause, saying the union no longer represents the rank and file on this matter.
At a recent meeting, more than 40 teachers representing a dozen schools in the district aired their views on the continuing chaos.
"I'm really shocked and upset by what's happened," said Ellen Cox, a teacher at Bennett Elementary School. "We don't want to see this dirty politics. Our district is becoming a laughingstock."
Others at the meeting concurred, adding that while they believe Fortune may have alienated teachers when he first came to the district nearly two years ago, they also believe he made up for those early mistakes and should be given a chance.
"He's the only superintendent that ever scheduled a monthly forum for teachers," said teacher Jay Navarro of Hudnall Elementary. "The fact that he has not kowtowed to officials outside the district speaks very highly of him."
Teacher Katie Miller pointed out what she called the irony of the teachers union position on Fortune. "They insist on due process for a teachers' dismissal, but they don't seem to think it's important for a superintendent."
Back to Business
Parent Teacher Assn. President Opaline Brice decried the infighting on the board, saying that board members "must get back to the business of educating our children."