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.