Inglewood schools try to fight through financial mess


West / California 176 Views

INGLEWOOD — Almost six years after the state took over oversight of the Inglewood Unified School District, the district still finds itself a deep financial crisis.

The state-appointed administrator, Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, took over the district last year, inheriting a $8 million deficit. As of March 15, that deficit has been cut down to $7 million.

Melendez is looking at every alternative under the sun to try to keep everyone, including parents, teachers, staff employees and students happy.

“Over the past year we’ve made impressive strides in reducing the deficit by close to a million dollars and we must all continue to work together in addressing our budget shortfalls,” Melendez said in an open letter on the district’s website. “The situation we are in is largely a result of declining student enrollment in our schools, combined with the district’s past inability to make the difficult reductions that were, and continue to be, essential for Inglewood Unified to achieve a sustainable recovery.”

The challenge for Melendez and the district is a steep one. And with the district now in contract negotiations with the Inglewood Teachers Associations and with the California Professional Employees that challenge has become a steeper hill to climb.

A representative for CalPro, which represents 450 non-certified district employees, believes the district may be using the deficit platform as a way to slash members’ health care benefits.

“We’re hoping to reach an agreement,” CalPro spokesman Chris Graeber said. “They’re imposing a very expensive plan for health insurance. They’re imposing that if you have children you would end up paying for your kids from $500 to $1,000 a month when right now there is no cost at all. We’re saying we can’t afford that.”

Melendez ushered a clear rebuttal to Graeber’s declaration, saying that the district actually picks up the bulk of the health care coverage that district employees carry.

Currently, for an HMO plan, Inglewood teachers and represented staff pay a monthly premium between $0 and $147.59,” Melendez said in her letter regarding the state of the district’s budget and current negotiations with the unions. “Inglewood Unified School District pays the rest at a total cost to the district of $1,905.41 each month, per employee. To reduce those costs, we have proposed placing a cap on the maximum amount that the district would pay for employee benefits. We will continue to provide dental and vision insurance to all of our teachers and classified staff at no cost to employees.”

There have been a myriad of issues engulfing the troubled school district. Since 2013, pension costs have risen from $5 million to $9 million. The district received a loan from the state and now must replay $1.8 million annually to cover that loan.

Student enrollment has plummeted drastically in the past decade, going from 14,682 students during the 2007-08 school year to 9,256 for 2017-18. Those numbers look even bleaker for the future. It is projected that IUSD would have an enrollment of 8,271 students for the 2019-20 school year.

One of the mitigating factors to the decline in the district’s numbers for students is the rise of charter schools. Charter schools operating within the district’s boundaries have increased two-fold. During the 2007-08 school year, there were 1,077 charter schools doing business in and around IUSD’s circle. That number jumped to 2,820 for 2016-17.

There is a lot of work to be done by the district in order to right its financial ship. Graeber believes one way of achieving that is for State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson to attend all IUSD board meetings.

“There is one common factor at IUSD; the state has been running IUSD, and that person needs to be held accountable for the status of Inglewood,” Graeber said.