Ousted Inglewood Unified leader took $100K buyout, district still spiraling down
The state-appointed leader of the Inglewood Unified School District was removed after only two months on the job back in December, but still received a $100,000 buyout.
Now, the district Kent Taylor left behind is continuing to spiral downward, with teachers and other employees facing the prospect of layoffs and double-digit pay cuts to stave off further financial disaster.
The discrepancy between Taylor’s buyout and the looming pay cuts prompted consternation among union officials this week, when the district held a special board meeting to address issues stemming from the buyout.
“When our people do something wrong, they get fired,” said Chris Graeber, field representative for the classified union representing custodians, clerical workers and other nonteachers. “This guy walks away with 100 grand in his pocket after two months of work. We can’t figure out how this is all adding up. ”
In September, fiscally insolvent Inglewood Unified became the ninth school district in the history of California to be taken over by the state. With expenditures exceeding revenues by some $16 million annually due to plunging student enrollment, the state in October floated the district an emergency loan of $55 million – an extreme measure that required firing then-local Superintendent Gary McHenry and stripping the locally elected school board of its legislative powers.
Around that time, Taylor was thrust into a high-profile, high-pressure situation when California state schools chief Tom Torlakson recruited him from the top job at the Southern Kern Unified School District in hopes Taylor could rescue Inglewood Unified from the financial quicksand.
He was hired at a salary of $16,670 a month, plus $600 every month for expenses, amounting to about $207,240 annually. Two months later, he was pressured to resign for making financial commitments with the teachers union without approval from the California Department of Education.
In mid-March, Taylor took a job next door, as deputy superintendent of the K-8 Lennox School District. Because he’d asked for his $100,000 buyout to be paid off on a monthly basis, he has essentially been earning two executive paychecks for the past three months. The issue came to light this week, when the Los Angeles County Office of Education notified the Inglewood school district that Taylor appears to be employed by two districts at once.
On the one hand, the issue is merely technical. To take care of it, the Inglewood Unified essentially just needs to cut Taylor a check for the balance of what he is owed so it can get him off the books.
But union leaders see the buyout as an issue of fairness. Inglewood’s classified union expects a round of layoffs in coming weeks and the teachers union faces a possible 15 percent pay cut.
“If the state believes (Taylor) made mistakes, why are they taking it out on us?” said Pete Somberg, president of the Inglewood teachers union. “And why are they taking it out on the kids? ”
Asked this week why he was allowed to resign, and why the deal included a $100,000 buyout, state officials were terse.
“The payments he has received were pursuant to his contract,” said a spokeswoman with the California Department of Education in an email to the Daily Breeze. Taylor did not return a call from the Daily Breeze early this week.
The state replaced Taylor with the school finances leader serving directly under him, La Tanya Kirk-Carter. That was supposed to be a temporary assignment until the state found a permanent hire, but it’s been nearly half a year and she remains at the helm.
Now, Kirk-Carter is in the unfortunate position of trying to persuade the teachers to back out of an agreement they’d signed with Taylor; it includes several furlough days but no significant concession on salary or benefits.
That deal, Kirk-Carter has said, failed to save enough money: just $1 million when the district has been deficit-spending by $16 million or more every year.
Teachers union President Somberg says it isn’t the teachers’ fault that Taylor wasn’t authorized to bargain. Inglewood teachers, he added, cannot afford a pay cut.
“We’re already the lowest-paid teachers in Los Angeles County,” he said. (Teachers in Inglewood do enjoy an unusually generous benefits package, though.)
Somberg said he’s been told that if teachers don’t accept a pay cut, the district faces an ominous prospect: running out of money from the state’s $55 million bailout loan before the end of the 2013-14 school year. That could mean dissolution of the district.
“They’re telling the teachers we need to take a 15 percent pay cut, and if we don’t, they’re holding the wrath of God over our head,” Somberg said. “Even though we didn’t mess up – they did. In order to save the district, it’s going to have to come on the backs of the employees. That’s just not OK. ”
The matter of Taylor’s ill-fated relationship with Inglewood Unified resurfaced Monday, when the district held a special board meeting to discuss a few issues, one of which was listed on the public agenda under a litigation header titled “Taylor vs. IUSD.” It turns out Taylor is not suing the district. Instead, the Los Angeles County Office of Education is asking for Inglewood to pay out the remainder of his monthly balance in a lump sum. (However, sources say there is a dispute between Taylor and the district about what he is owed.)
Next door, the Lennox school board is pleased enough with Taylor’s performance to make it official. On Tuesday night, it approved his contract, which codifies his $165,000 annual salary. School board President Marisol Cruz gave a rave review of his performance since taking the district’s No. 2 job on March 20.
“He gets things done, and fast,” she said, noting how Taylor swiftly made two important hires – fiscal director and the food services director. “If the board wants to get something done, we give a directive, and he tells us how to get there. It’s very clear, it’s very transparent and I love it. ”
Still, the sentiment apparently isn’t unanimous: the Lennox board – currently a fractured body – approved Taylor’s contract on a narrow 3-2 vote, with board members Juan Navarro and Angela Fajardo dissenting.