INGLEWOOD — As two candidates grapple for the only contested Inglewood school board seat in the April 4 election, they shine a spotlight on major financial problems the district has been facing for more than half a decade.
Three seats are up for re-election this year, but seats 2 and 3, find incumbents Carless McGhee and Melody Ngaue-Tuuholoaki running unopposed.
The incumbent for seat 1, Margaret Richards-Bowers, decided not to pursue another term, citing health reasons. Dionne Faulk and Odest Riley Jr. are running for that seat.
The winner may gain control of the seat on the board, but they will sit only in an advisory capacity.
Five years ago, the Los Angeles County Office of Education provided the Inglewood Unified School District with a negative certification on the district budget that was submitted. A negative certification of a school district budget means the district was considered unable to meet its financial obligations for the remainder of the current or the following fiscal year.
In 2010, the county Office of Education had provided an advisor for the district to monitor its operations of the district.
Following the negative certification, the district was in the difficult position of having to find a way to stabilize its finances. Without the ability for the district to balance it’s books, the county Office of Education at that time chose to take action that it has pursued against only nine other districts since 1990. It requested an emergency loan from the state and was granted $55 million.
The approval of the loan by the governor and Legislature came with a price. The authority of the board was diverted to the state and the state superintendent of public instruction appointed a state administrator to run the school district. Now on its fourth state-appointed administrator, Vincent Matthews leads the district as it remains under state control.
Matthews led the Oakland Unified School District through a similar situation, ultimately handing control back to the local board of education.
Although there is no timeline for returning control of the Inglewood Unified School District to the school board, there are several indicators of success. Of the nine criteria that need to be met related to the recovery plan that was included with the emergency loan, the district has accomplished four, but those four are the easiest to accomplish.
Once the district meets the requirements of all nine areas, the state appointed administrator will return control of the district to the school board and, in turn, the board will hire a superintendent to run the district’s day-to-day operations.
Even then, for a period of three years, a trustee will be assigned by the state to review any financial decisions and the trustee will have the power to rescind any action taken that may lead the district into further financial difficulties.
So, for the two incumbents and the winner of seat 1 in the upcoming election, their place on the school board will be strictly in an advisory capacity.
Faulk has run for a seat on the board in the past. The last time she ran with a ballot designation of “supervisor/assembly delegate.” This time she is running with the ballot designation of “financial literacy educator.”
While some in the community have expressed concern over Faulk’s ballot designation changes, Riley said he preferred not to focus on his opponent, but rather the strengths he brings to the table.
“I’m campaigning because I know what it’s like to be a student here in this community,” he said. “And because of my current job as owner and CEO of a real estate and lending company, I know how to balance a budget and the fundamental basics of how financial business works.”
Faulk has been endorsed by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke and Assemblyman Mike Gipson, state Sen. Mark Bradford and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Cal State Dominguez Hills and a law degree from the University of West Los Angeles.
Riley has a ballot designation of financial consultant/instructor. He is endorsed by Inglewood Mayor James Butts as well as City Council members George Dotson, Alex Padilla and Ralph Franklin as well as three school board members, Ngaue-Tuuholoaki, McGhee and Richards-Bowers.
A reporter reached out to Faulk for comment but she did not respond prior to press time.