By Frank Wells
Inglewood Teachers Association President Peter Somberg and Organizing Chair Kelly Iwamoto join other district staff, parents and students to protest layoffs and urge state budget passage.
Members of the Inglewood Teachers Association (ITA) have persevered through trying times, and their district may now be taken over by the state.
In June 2010, the ITA negotiations team met with Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) officials in an effort to settle the 2010-11 contract. As the team tried to ascertain the district’s fiscal status, officials kept responding to requests for financial information with shifting and contradictory data. ITA had long known that the district’s business department was slow to provide information, but its inability to produce even basic budget data gave warning to the ITA team that the district might be facing serious financial issues.
Unable to get accurate data, ITA demanded that the district hire the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) to do an extraordinary audit. FCMAT is an organization that provides assistance and advice to school districts struggling to meet their financial obligations. The district at first balked at the request, but finally, after the Los Angeles County Office of Education voiced grave concern over IUSD’s submitted budget, FCMAT was called in and in the fall confirmed ITA’s worst fears: The district was looking at a budget shortfall of over $50 million.
“The news was devastating,” says ITA President Peter Somberg. “We knew there was no way, even with massive cuts, that the district could close a deficit like that. Our bargaining goals and entire program for the past few years have focused on efforts to improve student achievement. This threatened to undermine all the gains we had made.”
ITA already had a multiyear organizing plan. Somberg and the union leadership immediately began incorporating dealing with the crisis into that plan. “Member education and raising community awareness were key components,” says Somberg. “We had to get the word out about the magnitude of the problem, and we needed to be prepared to deal with the worst.”
ITA began several rounds of school site visits, conducted house meetings, and began issuing a “Fiscal Flash” newsletter to keep members updated. They focused on community outreach, asking parents to sign up for a “Speak Up for Education” team that helped them develop a database of potential support. Knowing that a state budget that avoided more school cuts was crucial, ITA also fully committed to broader CTA efforts to pass a budget with extensions of current tax rates.
The direness of the situation really began to hit home in February when IUSD projected it might not even make the March payroll. The district began shifting and borrowing among accounts, but it was becoming obvious that it would be difficult if not impossible to make it through the year without massive cuts. In March, IUSD issued pink slips to 391 educators, more than half of the 690-member bargaining unit.
ITA had braced its members for layoffs, but the number finally issued was staggering. On one of the days of RIF (reduction in force) hearings, ITA held a districtwide protest before school, where entire staffs and supportive parents lined the sidewalks in front of their schools, while laid-off teachers held signs marking their years of experience. Even with the layoffs and other ITA concessions around benefits and furlough days totaling more than $16 million, it was becoming obvious that to get beyond this year would require even more: a state loan and possible state takeover.
California law gives the state superintendent of public instruction the authority to appoint an administrator or trustee to take over the management of a financially troubled district that requests a state loan. When that happens, the elected school board becomes a purely advisory body and the existing superintendent is fired. Oakland and Compton are among a handful of California school districts that have been taken over in the past.
Kelly Iwamoto is the ITA organizing chair; she sees takeover as a drastic step, but probably inevitable. A 15-year veteran with eight years in Inglewood, she is among the hundreds who received layoff notices. Although not optimistic about her own chances of being rehired, she has continued to help spearhead ITA’s efforts to educate both its membership and parents. “I’m fighting for the bigger picture of adequate school funding and keeping quality education in Inglewood,” she says. “Our members have been very grateful for what we’ve been doing, although at some of the schools with the most layoffs some people have understandably just become numb. But many are still able to look beyond the personal impact and help us fight for the resources these kids need.”
On June 9, ITA held a parent town hall meeting to explain the financial crisis and the implications of a state takeover. Earlier in the day, the district had held a similar meeting where officials tried to blame the current crisis on teachers who had already sacrificed greatly to help close the budget gap, and who ranked near the bottom of the county in compensation even before those concessions.
Presenters at the ITA parent meeting emphasized the need to keep students in Inglewood schools and renewed their commitment to quality education. “I’m a product of Inglewood, I went to school in Inglewood, I believe in Inglewood,” teacher Lisa Denmon-Mays told the parents. “My child goes to school here. Regardless of who ends up running Inglewood district, the teachers are going to work to ensure that every child succeeds.”
Related Tags: Volume 15 Issue 9, Inside Educator, Educator, Take A Stand, Financial, Funding, Layoffs, Organize, Parents, Shortage,