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Inglewood school board candidates try to build platform for recovery

Lavenia Stewart | 3/20/2013, 5 p.m.

Inglewood Unified School Board's authority is stripped, its contract-granting days are temporarily on hold, its decisions are null and void and its suggestions are advice-only. And yet, candidates have thrown their hats into the General Municipal Election race for school board seats 2 and 3 on April 2.

Two-term incumbent, Arnold Butler, is running unopposed for seat 1. Incumbent Trina Williams resigned seat 2 in January, leaving candidates Carliss Richardson-McGhee and Mariana Prado on the ballot. Recently, Prado withdrew.

In the race for seat 3, incumbent Alena Giardina is not seeking a second term. This leaves Margaret Richards-Bowers as the sole candidate since LaDeirdre Wilson has also withdrawn from the race.

The state took over the Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) in September after Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 533 approving a $55 million emergency loan to IUSD with stipulations, one of which called for the resignation of then-Superintendent Gary McHenry. Kent Taylor was appointed administrator to take over as superintendent and school board.

"On the surface, a state-run district looks like a lost cause, but it isn't," says current school board member Butler. "Our goal over the next four years is to show the state we can regain financial solvency.

Local control will be restored, and since this will be my last term I want to be a part of it.

"Our district was ravaged by a lack of funds. Many districts were teetering. We had spiraling (employee) healthcare costs, older facilities needing upkeep and low student enrollments brought us to the brink.

Charter schools have hurt us tremendously. The state owed us $30 million in late payments, if they had paid us what they owed, we wouldn't be having this discussion at all. It put us in a bad situation.

"Last year, our cash flow projections indicated we wouldn't meet payroll and expenses at the first of the year. That's why we took the loan. I think the governor now realizes that minority school districts require more funding--ESL, special education, drug babies, and mothers who had substandard prenatal care have children with growth and developmental problems. These kids require occupational therapists and psychologists. How do we meet these needs? Everything takes money.

"I'm a retired educator. I've served as a principal, vice principal, and chief of staff for Inglewood. I'm running unopposed, hopefully, because people feel I'm doing such an outstanding job that no one feels I need to be challenged. I'll stack my credentials up against anyone," said Butler.

With a state administrator in place, the five-member school board serves as advisers.

"It's a shame Butler is running unopposed," said Peter Somberg, president of the Inglewood Teacher's Association (ITA). "I think it's because the school board has lost its power and decision-making authority.

"In their advisory capacity, they no longer set policy, award contracts or spend time spouting their philosophy. It's been two decades of corruption and cronyism.

"In 1999, the Measure K bond was issued for $131 million, but grew to $180-190 million. And those contracts were meted out to friends. The public was disgusted with how it was handled and with the cost overruns. Those who run for a seat on the board now are those who want to do the right thing and help their community," added Somberg.