Lead Story News West Edition

Declining enrollment hampers Inglewood schools’ recovery

INGLEWOOD — Declining student enrollment and other factors continue to leave the Inglewood Unified School District in a fiscal deficit and the district could remain under state control for another 10 to 12 years, according to information revealed April 11 at a town hall meeting at Inglewood City Hall.

Organized by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood, the town hall meeting brought together local elected officials, education administrators, community leaders, high school students and community members.

Panelists included Inglewood Mayor James Butts, Inglewood school facilities Director Jema Estrella, state Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team Intervention Specialist Julie Auvil and the school district’s Chief Deputy Superintendent Joe Dominguez.

Members of Inglewood’s advisory school board and other state elected officials also were present.

“I think part of the issue that the community has faced is there has not been enough transparency and there has not been enough honesty,” Burke said in opening remarks. “So you will be hearing today about what we are going to do to move forward and we’ll talk about the challenges we are facing.”

Butts explained some of the dire problems facing the district.

“Students are revenue for the district,” he said. “However, over the last eight to 10 years, student enrollment has declined by 7,000 or 8,000 students. For every student we lose, we lose that [state] money either to another school district or to a charter.”

A significant reason for the district’s fiscal problems is money derived from the state for average daily attendance, or ADA, which is based on enrollment and student attendance. Enrollment throughout the district has declined 16,320 in 2005 to 11,300 at 2012-13.

District administrators have identified several ways to increase ADA in future years by adding transitional kindergarten students and expanding its dependent charter enrollment.

The district’s multiyear recovery plan, once developed, will need to identify multiple solutions to increase enrollment in future years. The district had predicted its enrollment for this year to be 9,832, but it will drop further to 8,749 in the 2016-17 school year, according to projections.

Don Brann, the state appointed trustee, did not attend the town hall meeting, but has previously addressed the district’s enrollment problems.

“I am hoping that time will help me fix the district’s persistent problem with declining enrollment,” Brann has said. “Because the state pays schools based on the number of kids enrolled, drops in students mean smaller budgets. And Inglewood’s enrollment has dropped nearly 25 percent in the last decade.”

“Because every student who comes in the door is worth about $8,200, we lose about $8,200 for everyone that leaves.”

Brann is the third state trustee since the state began oversight of the district in 2012. The first trustee was dismissed after two months after approved a deal with the teacher’s union without running it past state education officials.

Butts also addressed the path the district must take to get out from under state oversight.

“There are two things that have to happen,” he said. “One, you have to repay the loan. Two, you have to raise scores for two or three years consecutively.

“Right now, we have been in receivership for about three years and our scores have not risen,” the mayor said. “It is my understanding that in this coming year, we are still going to have a million dollar deficit. So that means we are going to have to borrow $1 million to pay back $1.8 million. That’s ridiculous.”

Butts said it is now time to start talking about the possibility of selling surplus land to help pay back the loan to the state and to have funds to move the district forward.

During a PowerPoint presentation, Dominquez talked about efforts the district is making to avoid insolvency. He said at this time he was more concerned with increasing student enrollment rather than simply maintaining the current enrollment.

He said many parents have taken their children to charter schools in recent years because of the district’s poor test scores.

For years, the district’s test scores have failed to reach the 800-point Academic Performance Index goal set by the state, though elementary schools outperform high schools, as they do in many urban school districts.

Brann said he had a plan to convince families to come back to the district.

“We’re working on lowering our class sizes significantly, like by 50 percent in the primary grades,” he said. He said the district also plans to launch dual language immersion programs, create science and technology academies, begin remodeling and rebuilding old schools and hire new principals.

Daniel Saunders, a local high school student, attended the town hall meeting.

“I am looking forward to changes in programs and I am disappointed in the enrollment and attendance statistics,” he said. “I just really want to see positive changes in programs for the students.”

Steven Saunders, a local teacher and parent, said, “I am here today because I want to represent parents’ and student’s voices as far as the improvements that are taking place within Inglewood Unified School District.”

“Based on what I heard today, it seems like everyone is going in the same direction as far as making sure that Inglewood Unified becomes the jewel again of the South Bay area.”

“We didn’t get in this [situation] overnight, and we won’t get out overnight,” Burke said. “But together, we will get our schools back on track and return them to local control.”

“Inglewood is rising and we will never get to where we need to be without fixing our school system,” Butts said.” Nobody wants to put their kids in a school district that is in receivership. We have to all work together to lift the IUSD from it current status. This will allow our children to reach for the stars.”