The financially troubled Inglewood Unified School District has begun making cuts in an attempt to stabilize a budget that has spiraled out of control, authorizing 166 pink slips in a wave of potential layoffs that, if enacted, would reach every level of the district, from teachers to managers to custodians and more.
And yet, the district's top administrator says although it's been nearly six months since Inglewood Unified became the ninth school district in the history of California to be taken over by the state, the runaway deficit-spending that bankrupted the district is slated to continue next fiscal year.
"We're looking down the barrel of a really bad gun," said La Tanya Kirk-Carter, interim state administrator for the district.
For years, plunging student enrollment and other issues have sent Inglewood Unified's finances into a tailspin, with expenditures exceeding revenues by some $16 million annually. To stop the bleeding, the state in October floated the district an emergency loan of $55 million - an extreme measure that required firing the local superintendent and the stripping the locally elected school board of its legislative powers.
Now, a single, state-appointed administrator - Kirk-Carter - acts as a one-person school board and superintendent.
On Tuesday night, at a tense meeting during which police officers were on hand to maintain order, Kirk-Carter authorized $4.1 million
The move has already drawn fire from both the teachers union and the classified union representing custodians, clerical workers and other non-teachers. Among their complaints: Kirk-Carter failed to give the public more than 24 hours notice of Tuesday night's special meeting.
"Such a large cut that affects the entire Inglewood community, with less than 24-hour notice, is not in the best interest of building the public back into this district," said Christopher Graeber, field representative for the classified union, in a statement. "This short notice is being done to prevent community input. "
Amid the wreckage is a seed of hope that everyone involved hopes will blossom: For the first time in seven years, enrollment at Inglewood Unified mostly held steady at around 11,400. (Half a decade ago, enrollment stood at 16,000.)
"People feel good about the state takeover," Kirk-Carter said.
As a result of the better-than-expected head count, Kirk-Carter said it's extremely unlikely that all 50 teachers receiving layoff notices will truly be out of a job next year.
But despite that bit of good news, and despite Tuesday's cuts, Kirk-Carter said the district - which works with annual revenues of about $100 million - is on track to deficit-spend to the tune of $13 million to $15 million again next school year.
"The district is getting further and further in the hole," she said.
Kirk-Carter says the holdup in further reducing the deficit is largely the result of an embarrassing hiccup in the state-takeover process that occurred in December. That month, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson abruptly yanked the administrator he'd hand-selected to steer the district out of its quagmire.
That administrator, Kent Taylor, had undermined Torlakson's authority by unilaterally negotiating an agreement with the Inglewood teachers union without getting the requisite approval from the state Department of Education. As a result, Taylor - who in October had been touted by Torlakson at a ceremonial press conference as a proud graduate of Inglewood High - in December was forced to resign.
At that point, Kirk-Carter, who had been appointed by Torlakson to work in a No. 2 capacity - minding the finances - became the interim state administrator. (She had worked for the Inglewood district before, as a business manager in the late 1980s, but most recently had been an administrator in the Beverly Hills Unified School District.)
Now, the teachers union and the state are at a stalemate: The teachers want to keep the contract they bargained with Taylor, even though the state has declared it null and void.
"We have a legally binding, bargained-in-good-faith agreement," said teachers union President Pete Somberg. "The only parts of the contract that can be reopened are anything except salary and benefits for the next two years. "
Kirk-Carter said that in addition to flouting protocol, the agreement between Taylor and the teachers union failed to save enough money - just $1 million when the district has been deficit-spending by $16 million or more. In the deal, the teachers agreed to take several furlough days - two next school year and four the following - but made no significant concessions on salary or benefits, the latter of which Kirk-Carter said are among the most generous in Los Angeles County.
"That's why the teachers are happy" about the contract, she said. "Who wouldn't take it? "
Somberg countered that Inglewood's teachers, whose salary schedule ranges from about $38,000 to $79,000, are among the lowest paid in Los Angeles County. He believes that what the state needs to do is increase the size of the $55 million bailout loan.
"They were soft-pedaling the dire consequences," he said of the long-gone administration, which provided figures to consultants working with the state to determine the size of the necessary loan.
Somberg also believes enrollment will rebound, and that cuts are not currently necessary.
"The enrollment trend shows us that we had less than 1 percent decline in enrollment this year - why do you think that is?" he said. "Certainly not because of the wonderful PR machine we have in Inglewood. It's because people think the bad is gone. "
Graeber, meanwhile, said he doesn't trust Kirk-Carter's numbers.
"This administration with La Tanya Kirk-Carter is doing things fast and loose and we believe things are starting to catch up to them," he said.