Last Wednesday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, appointed LA Native, Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana as the new trustee of Inglewood Unified School District. Melendez de Santa Ana comes to Inglewood Unified after leading the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Office of Educational Services as well as previously serving as superintendent of Pomona and Santa Ana. Melendez de Santa Ana represents a shift in demographics for Inglewood schools as the first Mexican American to lead the district. In years past, Inglewood schools were predominantly African American. Today, they show a majority Latino population.
In the wake of a state fiscal crisis, the Inglewood School Board and superintendent were subject to state receivership in 2012, which relegated the board to an advisory role and stripped them of all decision making powers. That year, the district took a $55 million loan from the state. California Department of Education appointed trustees to oversee the district and its finances as it pertained to that loan. To date, state appointees spent $29 million. That loan is being paid back at a rate of $1.8 million a year and is set to maturate in 2033.
Since 2012, down 600 students, enrollment has dropped 12% representing a loss of $6 million. 12% declining enrollment is triple the county average. Although previous state trustees began to stabilize the Inglewood USD’s finances, this decline has compounded the districts financial woes.
Kelly Iwamoto, President of the Inglewood Teachers Association, believes improving the district’s struggling high schools and dual language programs will slow the decline in enrollment in addition to engaging stakeholders. “The next state administrator has to be somebody that is resilient because you have to be here for the long haul,” Iwamoto said.
The state is said to be willing to hand over control of the district back to the board once its’ financial picture and academic achievement both stabilize. Inglewood School Board Member, Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, believes Melendez de Santa Ana has the experience and network to turn the tide. He said, “I think she can help get the word out there. One of the assets she brings is that she has a strong local network. She’s here in Los Angeles, she’s familiar with the communities.”
Turning around a failing school district is no small order. Consistency in synonymous with stability, both literally and figuratively. Along with effective governance teams, stability is imperative to supporting children and families. Inglewood Unified School District is one of four districts in the state under state control; five state appointed trustees have been at the helm since 2012.
Five trustees in five years should be alarming to those interested in seeing Inglewood schools returned back to local control. Yet, after the departure of the previous trustee and now superintendent of San Francisco Public Schools, Vince Matthews, another trustee has been selected and is tasked with curtailing the district’s declining enrollment; something five previous trustees were unable to do. After resigning or taking on roles elsewhere, no state appointee has served more than 2 years.
In June 2017, the Los Angeles County Office of Education sent the district notice that it was facing a 5 million dollar deficit. While school officials feel hopeful that new leadership will be beneficial, many of Inglewood’s teachers fear impending layoffs.