Torlakson makes ‘questionable choice’ for Inglewood Schools

Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana named State Administrator

Joe Bowers | OW Contributor | 8/10/2017, midnight

Inglewood Unified is Meléndez’s sixth job during the last 10 years. She has only five years experience as a Superintendent and her last superintendent’s position was two jobs ago. That experience does not include turning around a school district having financial problems. While at Santa Ana Unified their bond rating was downgraded because the school district finances had deteriorated during her leadership.

Since her appointment, Meléndez has made comments confirming our concern that she does not fully understand what she will have to do to turn Inglewood schools around. She said she wants to see Inglewood Unified leave receivership, in three, four years.

Inglewood Unified’s last budget is projecting three years of deficit spending and shows no reserves for economic uncertainty. Returning the school district to local control will have to overcome those difficult financial hurdles. For someone who has no turnaround experience and who is two jobs removed from running a school district, we have no evidence she has the skills and experience necessary to solve Inglewood’s issues.

In addition to resolving the school district’s financial woes, she will have to address the problem of declining enrollment; reduce expenditures for educating special education students and fix school facilities before local control is a possibility. Given her work history, it’s not unreasonable to question whether Meléndez will be around long enough to oversee Inglewood’s return to community control.

The community’s hope is that Dr. Meléndez succeeds because Inglewood Unified students will be the beneficiary. The actions that she needs to take as state administrator have already been identified and it’s past the time those actions should have been implemented. No 60-100 day listening tours are needed. She needs to “right size” the school district by matching-up staffing and number of facilities to the number students being served. Wages and benefits need to be established at amounts that the school district can afford. Failure to on her part to act should be proof to Torlakson that there are valid concerns about this selection.

Joe Bowers is a public education advocate. He is a retired engineer and business executive. He is a graduate of Stanford University.