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Inglewood School Chief's Contract Renewed

February 25, 1988|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | Times Staff Writer

Taking advantage of two vacancies on the Inglewood School Board, members Lois Hill-Hale and Zyra McCloud voted this week to renew the contract of Supt. Rex Fortune for two years.

The other board member, Caroline Coleman, stormed out of the meeting prior to the vote Monday. To the applause of the audience, she denounced her colleagues and Fortune.

Then, as three seats sat vacant, Hill-Hale and McCloud cast the vote on Fortune's contract, which was to expire in June.

One board seat was vacated when Ernest Shaw died last September. The other opened up when Rosemary Benjamin abruptly resigned Feb. 15. Both of them, like Coleman, had opposed renewing Fortune's contract, said Coleman and other sources.

Potential candidates to fill the vacancies said Fortune's performance and the manner in which the contract was extended would be central issues in the June special election.

Surgery Scheduled

The board will shrink temporarily to two members in March, when Coleman is scheduled to undergo surgery that will keep her from her duties for at least six weeks.

She and others--including Inglewood Teachers Assn. President Ken Franklin--blamed Fortune for the district's $900,000 deficit and its first teachers' strike and said he had failed to improve education for the district's black and Latino students.

Fortune had no comment.

Hill-Hale told the meeting that she placed the item on the agenda because the district needs "continuity . . . of the educational process."

Praising the superintendent, Hill-Hale said she had originally wanted a four-year extension of Fortune's contract, but reduced that number by two years after consulting with members of the community. Fortune's current salary is $68,318.

"In two years we will be willing to vote for another two years," Hill-Hale said. "We will see progress and improvement."

McCloud said she voted for Fortune because political bickering on the board had prevented him from doing his job properly.

"This man has been set up for failure," McCloud said. "I have to agree there's a lot to be done. But can we point the finger at one man? . . .Nobody can work under that kind of political harassment. We're giving him a new chance, a new beginning."

W. R. (Tony) Draper, a former board member who lost to Hill-Hale last June and plans to run in the special election, said during public comments at the meeting that Fortune was "prostituting" himself in a deal that would give Hill-Hale and McCloud control of the district.

Disenchantment Cited

Draper and others accused Hill-Hale and McCloud of taking advantage of the resignation of Benjamin, who left the board for personal reasons and was widely said to have opposed renewing Fortune's contract.

Coleman told Hill-Hale and McCloud--who were both elected in June--that six board members who had worked with Fortune during her two terms had all eventually become disenchanted with him, regardless of their political camps.

"I beg you not to do this to our children," Coleman said.

Although Coleman said her walkout would render any action illegal, lawyers from the Los Angeles County Counsel's office said Wednesday that the vote was legal; two board members constitute a quorum when two vacancies exist on a five-member board. The county counsel provides legal advice to school districts.

Appointment Voided

The district has been in an uproar since the board appointed former Police Chief Joseph Rouzan to Shaw's seat in November. Citizens groups angered by the questionable legality of the selection process mounted a petition drive that terminated Rouzan's appointment and forced the special election set for June 7.

Also on Monday, Hill-Hale and McCloud voted to fill Benjamin's seat by election.

School officials said they hope that the county registrar-recorder's office will take emergency action to place a second election on the June ballot, though the deadline for doing so has passed.

Fortune, 46, came to the Inglewood schools in 1983 and was the focus of a political battle two years later when Coleman, Shaw and a former board member, William Dorn, fired him, saying he had not lived up to their expectations.

Fortune Accuses Board

Fortune and his supporters fought back, charging that the board majority was allied with Mayor Edward Vincent and had fired the superintendent for resisting their attempt to control the district and its 1,200 jobs.

Vincent has repeatedly said he has made no effort to influence the school district. Community outrage led to the rehiring of Fortune, who had filed a $3.5-million suit against the district.

Political lines blurred on the board in the June, 1987, elections, but Fortune's performance remained an issue. According to Coleman and other sources, Coleman, Shaw and Benjamin informed Fortune at the beginning of the current school year that his contract would not be renewed and that he should look for employment elsewhere.

2-2 Tie Develops

But after Shaw's death, Coleman said, Fortune "sat tight."

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