By Kenneth Miller, Publisher
It has been more than a decade since Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) went into receivership for massive delinquency in a myriad of areas, including financial mismanagement, but the latest County Administrator Dr. James Morris has made a bold pledge that it ends with him.
Dr. Morris, who has invested more than half of his life to education, delivered that declaration on June 11th at his IUSD office during a candid exclusive interview.
Dr. Morris began his career thirty-seven years ago as a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District and retired as the Superintendent of the Fremont Unified School District in Fremont, California. Prior to being appointed Superintendent in Fremont in July 2010, he worked as the Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for 10 years.
During his career, he served as a teacher, a principal, and a variety of other administrative positions including Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, and Superintendent of District 2 supervising over 102 schools with 103,000 students and families in the San Fernando Valley.
At the age of 64, he was appointed as the County Administrator of IUSD which is at a critical crossroads with 10 of its remaining 15 schools at or above 50 percent in available capacity, but he believes finally getting the district our of receivership is a realistic possibility.
“That is absolutely the goal (getting out of receivership) and I think it is achievable,” the veteran educator began. “Let me tell you why I think it’s achievable. This is a district that has been mischaracterized in many ways. There are so many good people who work here, who work really hard and love the district, and are dedicated to the district.”
However, I interrupted to ask why is the district losing students by the bus loads?
“You’re correct over the past 23 years the enrollment has declined from 18,000 to less than 8,000 and I think that it’s absolutely essential that I be a cheerleader for the district and encourage people there is a way forward,” Dr. Morris said.
Dr. Morris, who replaced Erika Torres in January 2023, then offered me his four page District Update 22-23 produced on June 29 that explained the whole story.
In the report there is good and bad news. The good is the district is checking off some of the requirements of The Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) that was created by legislation in 1991 as an independent and external state agency.
In the Operational Areas of Community Relations and Governance the district is no longer under review having met all the standards.
The district has not met the barrier in Personal management, Financial Management and Facilities Management.
IUSD did meet the marker for Pupil Achievement in the four categories.
Since 2013 IUSD has made gains towards solvency with much of that progress achieved under the guidance of Dr. Torres who left because of health reasons.
The next steps for the district are to complete 28 standards required by FCMAT and then repay the state loan.
It cost about $200 million annually to operate IUSD, but each student that maintains Average Daily Attendance can bring the district $20,000 per child in revenue.
Most of the financial woes are attributed to the severe low enrollment at its schools that continue to cost IUSD more to keep open then it would to close or consolidate.
Worthington Elementary was closed because it was at less than 60 percent capacity, just 404 students who were moved to Woodworth Academy, which was also 63 percent short of capacity. Now the consolidated Woodworth has 1,025 students which would still fall short of the required 1,696.
The community outrage because of the closing of Warren Lane in 2022, will likely fester again after the School Closure/Consolidation Committee presents its next recommendations to Dr. Morris.
Most of IUSD elementary schools have been converted to K-8, but they too are well below capacity.
This is all occurring during the well documented City of Inglewood renaissance, surging real estate developments that includes one-two bedroom complexes that are not inclined to increase the district’s population.
IUSD has three high schools, Morningside, Inglewood and City Honors International Prep which is housed on Crozier (George W.) Middle School campus.
City Honors has just 289 students, lowest of any IUSD school, Morningside is at 535 and Inglewood at 827 has more students than any other school.
He highlighted Inglewood High School football coach Mil’Von James who has been instrumental in attracting student athletes to the campus.
Dr. Morris shared breaking news that antiquated Inglewood will soon be remodeled beginning as soon as 2024 and completed by 2029.
The only question that remains is what the capacity will be by then and if it will include a consolidation of Morningside.
As Dr. Morris indicated nothing is off the table.