Crusade against arena is more about political ambition

The building boom that the city of Inglewood is experiencing presents a financial bonanza for the Inglewood Unified School District.

The fees from commercial and residential developers, taxes collected, and corporate sponsorships will provide needed funds to upgrade school facilities and balance the school district’s budget.

After five years of running Inglewood schools, the California Department of Education has balanced the budget only once and expects to incur a deficit of more than $8 million for the current school year.

While State Administrator Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana has developed a plan to turn around the district’s finances, additional monies that more developments in Inglewood would generate would help mitigate cuts in school personnel, wages and benefits and closing of schools that would be needed to achieve a balanced budget.

Meléndez is committed to returning the school district to local control, hopefully in four years. She is working closely with advisory school board members who are committed to supporting actions that would enable Inglewood schools to deliver the best education possible to Inglewood students.

However, school board member D’Artagnan Scorza is engaged in a crusade to stop the Clippers from building an arena on land owned by the city of Inglewood. If the Clippers relocate to Inglewood, the school district would gain additional funds and potentially a corporate sponsor possessing many resources.

Scorza is leading a community coalition formed as a reaction to the increase in rents occurring due to the “city’s resurgence.” Sixty-four percent of Inglewood residents are renters who face rent increases as living in Inglewood becomes more popular. If he could organize this base, he could get elected to Inglewood’s city council or become mayor.

His opposition to the arena is based on speculation he’s been fueling that residents will be displaced. But, according to Inglewood Mayor James Butts, the arena will not displace residents. A Clippers spokesperson said, “Neither the city of Inglewood or the Clippers have taken any action or will take any action to take anyone’s home or church. Period.”

Mayor Butts and council members approved an exclusive negotiation agreement with the Clippers that gives them three years to conduct feasibility studies to decide whether to build an arena in Inglewood. The agreement does not allow them to begin construction and it includes developing an environmental impact report.

I know Scorza. I worked with him on a couple of campaigns — Measure GG Bond Committee and George Dotson for Councilman. We formed the Equity in Education Coalition to monitor and critique the state’s management of Inglewood schools.

Misrepresenting facts about the proposed Clippers arena to gain support for his position is consistent with tactics he’ll employ and I don’t doubt his opposition to the NBA arena is politically motivated.

While he brags about how he ran the Measure GG Bond Committee, he was one of the least experienced members and relied heavily on direction from consultants and other committee members. The measure passed in spite of him.

He mismanaged communications with Rep. Maxine Waters’ office, causing her to withhold her endorsement of the bond measure. She eventually endorsed the measure, but Scorza had nothing to do with her decision.

Campaigning for the school board in 2015 he said, “I had enough” of the years of mismanagement of the school district by the state. He didn’t mention that in 2012 he was hired by Kent Taylor, the first state administrator and that the school district borrowed $29 million from the state without financial justification on his watch.

I ended my association with the Equity in Education Coalition when it was clear to me he was sabotaging the coalition likely because he realized our investigations would uncover he was complicit in the state’s mismanagement of the school district when he worked for Taylor.

Scorza has failed in his attempts to be elected a school board officer. In the most recent district elections, he tried to run candidates against two sitting board members who would not vote for him, but that failed.

His willingness to sacrifice financial resources that would accrue to the school district from an NBA arena to advance his own political self-interests needs to be soundly rejected by the Inglewood community.

The slogan he’s using to attract supporters is “Homes before Arenas.” While it may appeal to his base, as a responsible Inglewood school board member a more appropriate slogan for him to use would be “Homes and Arenas.”

But, that’s a slogan reflective of what Mayor Butts and council members are currently doing. Cooperating with them would detract from the notoriety he’s gained from his opposition to the Clippers arena.

Scorza says he is fighting for affordable housing to prevent Inglewood schools from losing students whose parents could no longer afford to live in the school district. But, its developments like the Clippers arena, which provide the funds needed to sustain schools that parents want their students to attend.

The fact is he can do both. He can work with Inglewood city officials to advance affordable housing initiatives and support their efforts to attract more developments to the city. However, that would require him to put aside his political ambitions, which it appears he is unwilling to do.

Joe Bowers is a public education advocate. He is a retired engineer and business executive and a graduate of Stanford University.

Venice High faculty member wins state teaching award

VENICE — Kirsten Farrell, a health science and medical technology teacher at Venice High School, has been named by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson as one of five 2018 California Teachers of the Year. She is the only Los Angeles Unified School District teacher this year to receive the honor.

“I want to thank the California Department of Education for this very special recognition,” Farrell said. “I have always been — and continue to be — inspired by my students and by my many dedicated colleagues every single day.”

Farrell created one of the first LAUSD sports medicine teams which she founded at Venice High in 2004 in partnership with the West Coast Sports Foundation. In addition to teaching students about anatomy, medical terminology and the ability to treat athletic injuries, the program helps them recognize signs of concussions and trains them in CPR, use of defibrillator and other life-saving techniques.

“We are incredibly proud of Ms. Farrell for this important distinction,” said LAUSD acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian. “In addition to exhibiting educational excellence, she is someone who embodies an entrepreneurial spirit. Breaking new ground in important fields, she is an amazing role model for students everywhere.”

A 21-year teaching veteran, Farrell has served at Venice High for 15 years as a regional occupational program and career technical education teacher. She has taught a variety of courses, including sports medicine, medical terminology and sports therapeutics. She is also a certified athletic trainer.

Before coming to Venice, she taught at St. Monica Catholic High School in Santa Monica, Leysin American School in Switzerland and Nishimachi International School in Japan.

“I appreciate that Venice is a true community school,” Farrell said. “Having grown up in a mobile, military family, I am thrilled when I meet grandparents of current students who proclaim ‘Proud to be a Gondo!’”

Venice Principal Oryla Wiedoeft said that Farrell is an inspirational teacher who has a positive impact on every student who enters her classroom.

“She is an absolute superstar,” she said. “Through her vision, creativity, dedication and leadership skills, she has led the development and execution of a unique small learning community that has achieved tremendous success and helped markedly increase enthusiasm among students and enrollment at our school.”

Farrell’s’ recognition also garnered accolades from Los Angeles school board.

“We celebrate the amazing talent in Los Angeles and are proud to have Ms. Farrell honored as a California Teacher of the Year,” said school board President Mónica García. “Ms. Farrell models the qualities of inspiring educators, like excellence, commitment, healer, scholar and bridge builder. And, we salute her work to get more students to the graduation finish line, ready for college, career and beyond.”

“I am proud and grateful to have teachers like Kirsten Farrell at the helm of Venice High School’s Sports Medicine Team, molding the minds and healing the injuries of athletes,” said board Vice President Nick Melvoin, whose district includes Venice High. “Farrell’s well-deserved statewide recognition showcases the positive effect of an enthusiastic, hard-working and passionate educator.”

“Teachers like Kristen Farrell are the catalyst to students’ cultivation of a love of learning,” said school board member George J. McKenna III. “We are extremely proud of Ms. Farrell and celebrate her as a giant among her colleagues.”

Presented by California Casualty and the California Teachers of the Year Foundation, the California Teachers of the Year Program began in 1972 to honor outstanding teachers and encourage new teachers to enter the profession.


LAUSD settles lawsuit with high-need schools

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Unified School District will pay more than $150 million to 50 schools in primarily low-income areas to resolve a lawsuit accusing the district of misspending funds that should have been used to benefit “high-need” and English-learning students, attorneys announced Sept. 14,

The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by a coalition of community groups that alleged the district had been misspending about $450 million annually that should have been earmarked toward campuses in primarily low-income communities.

“We are pleased to have reached to solution that will immediately improve the lives of students across Los Angeles,” said Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, executive vice president of Community Coalition, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit. “While this is a promising victory, it also serves as an important reminder that low-income communities of color remain overlooked in Los Angeles. The time for communities like South L.A. is now, and we must continue the fight for our kids and our future.”

David Holmquist, general counsel for the LAUSD, said the district was “pleased” to be able to resolve the lawsuit.

“The result of this settlement provides a tremendous opportunity to direct more resources to our highest-need students and schools,” he said.

“The underlying litigation between the parties involved varying interpretations of a very complex statutory framework. With this settlement complete, the district is ready to move forward and continue to put kids first.”

The 50 schools that will receive additional funding are primarily in South and East Los Angeles. The money is expected to support academic, social and emotional support services, drop-out prevention programs and parent-engagement efforts, according to the groups that filed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged that the LAUSD credited itself for about $450 million a year that should have been spent on high-need students but was instead lumped into the district’s basic educational program funds. The plaintiffs alleged that over time, the accounting practice would have diverted about $2 billion away from the schools that should have received the funds.

The state Department of Education stepped in last year and ordered a change in the district’s practices for future years, but the litigation continued over what plaintiffs called misallocated funds from prior years.

“This settlement is ultimately about children and giving them the resources they need, deserve and require to thrive,” said Sylvia Torres-Guillen, director of educational equity at the ACLU of California. “School districts are responsible for their students’ success and must properly invest in them as required by law.”