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Veteran educator Don Brann will lead Inglewood Unified

Former head of Hawthorne's Wiseburn district will be the third leader since the state takeover — in September — of the financially troubled district.

June 28, 2013|By Stephen Ceasar

Don Brann, the former head of the Wiseburn School District in Hawthorne, was selected Friday to lead Inglewood Unified — the third person to take the helm after the state takeover of the financially troubled school district.

Brann, who most recently served as interim superintendent of the San Gabriel Unified School District, will start next week.

Brann has worked as a teacher, principal and superintendent in several school districts across the state for more than 40 years. He was superintendent at Wiseburn for 15.

His experience and judgment make him an ideal candidate to help Inglewood schools return to local control, said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

"Bringing the district back to sound financial footing — so that it can continue serving students and their community — remains my top priority, and Don Brann has the experience and vision to make it happen," Torlakson said in a statement.

That task, however, has proved difficult and rankled many in the community who view state administrators as having bungled the recovery.

The state Department of Education took over the debt-saddled school system in September, infusing the district with $55 million in emergency loans.

Since then, the district has depleted its reserves, burned through nearly half of the emergency funds and is operating at a $17.7-million deficit.

The district may receive some relief through a change in state law. Under proposed legislation, the $55-million emergency loan would be financed by the state's general fund.

That change would reduce the amount of money the district must pay in interest by as much as $2 million a year, according to an email obtained by The Times from Richard Zeiger, the state chief deputy superintendent, to Inglewood district and union officials.

"Although it comes nowhere close to solving all our problems, it certainly helps," Zeiger wrote.

Budget woes are exacerbated by the loss of funding for students who have been fleeing the district for nearby independently run charter schools. Without cuts, officials have said, the school system could be dissolved.

Officials have previously laid out plans to reduce the deficit by about $6.6 million through other means but have made clear that more cuts are needed and employees will be affected.

"I look forward to working with teachers and parents to help Inglewood Unified live up to its potential as a thriving learning community," Brann said in a statement. "There are some hard choices ahead, but we can get through them if we work together to rebuild our schools and system."

When the state moved in, Kent Taylor, an alumnus, was appointed as the first state monitor — essentially the superintendent in charge of all operations.

But Taylor resigned within two months, after the Department of Education's discovery that he had made a tentative agreement with the teachers union. State officials say he had no authority to enter into such a pact.

His deputy, La Tanya Kirk-Carter, was thrust into the position to the chagrin of much of the community. Many in Inglewood, among them teachers, parents and unions, contend that Kirk-Carter was not qualified to make necessary changes.

Torlakson praised the work of Kirk-Carter on Friday. "Ms. Kirk-Carter has provided considerable expertise in a challenging time," Torlakson said. Kirk-Carter will remain as the district's assistant superintendent of business services.

Brann will face a teachers union that had refused to return to the bargaining table with state officials. Further cuts to salaries and benefits are unsustainable, said Peter Somberg, president of the Inglewood Teachers Assn.

The union maintains that the agreement reached with Taylor, before his resignation, is legitimate. The state has said repeatedly that the contract is void. The union, in turn, brought an unfair-labor charge against the district.

Somberg said he is optimistic that new leadership will help the district, but he said he knows very little about Brann.

"We're continuously concerned with what is in the best interest of the students of Inglewood and the teachers of Inglewood. We hope it's a fine working relationship," he said.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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