By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Former high school administrator Marshall Abbage spent two hours last April 6 at the office of his attorney in downtown Los Angeles, there to give a deposition supporting his workman's compensation case against the Inglewood School District. His troubles began, Abbage said in a statement, when he spotted the district's superintendent, McKinley Nash Sr., urinating outside a gym on school grounds.
Abbage filed a report on the incident with the state Department of Education. The next day five undercover Inglewood police officers under the command of Detective Paul Harvey arrived at his Culver City townhouse bearing a search warrant. "They made me sit on the floor while they searched for two hours," Abbage recalled later in an interview. "They opened my personal safe, looked in my wife's purse."
Nash had demoted Abbage in the weeks previous to the accusation and the search; Abbage was later stabbed by a student on campus, and now he was on disability leave.
Abbage completed his deposition, climbed into his late-model Mercedes-Benz and headed down Wilshire Boulevard for the freeway. To his consternation, two unmarked police cars fell in behind him and signaled him to pull over. Abbage stepped out of his car and to his surprise, Detective Harvey approached and ordered Abbage - at gunpoint - to put his hands behind his back. Abbage was handcuffed and told he was under arrest for suborning perjury. Police towed his auto and took Abbage to jail. He was released several hours later on $50,000 bail.
Abbage now faces prosecution for his efforts to persuade another witness to report Nash's alleged indiscretion. To outside observers the case might seem simply bizarre, but to Inglewood residents familiar with Nash's four-year tenure at the troubled school district, it rings all too familiar.
"Nash wants to rule this thing like Rwanda," asserted Kenneth Crowe, former principal of Inglewood High School, whom Nash also transferred and demoted. Crowe has filed a civil lawsuit against the district contending that Nash conducted a campaign to defame him. Aside from the suit, Crowe is calling for public hearings into the superintendent's conduct. "Anyone who doesn't bow down and do his bidding, anyone who engages in an intellectual discussion that may not be his point of view, then he wants to crush that person."
Nash has his supporters, including a four-vote majority on the school board, who portray the superintendent as a no-nonsense leader determined to rescue the district from the brink of insolvency and rid the schools of inept administrators. Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn contends that Nash, 64, is a skilled leader dedicated to the city's public schools and only requires more time and money to improve the district. Although Dorn acknowledges that three of the district's secondary schools are "a disgrace," he is "convinced we have the right man as far as the superintendent is concerned."
But Nash has engendered a growing number of critics, including many parents, who argue that he removes and replaces administrators and staff based on their allegiance to him, not their qualifications. Nash is also known for hiring people with troubled employment histories. Most recently, the superintendent selected Lowell Winston, a former Inglewood schools administrator, as the new principal of Inglewood High. Winston's return to Inglewood follows his suspension and transfer from a Memphis, Tennessee, high school last October, after an internal audit revealed that the school had $112,000 in unpaid bills and only $20,000 in the bank. According to one district source, Nash did not mention the principal's troubles to board members, who voted to approve the recommendation.
"This is the revolving door of sycophancy we have at Inglewood Unified School District," said Mike Triggs, a former school-board member. "It's not a meritocracy. It's a scamocracy. It's how far, how wide, how deep can we scam the public."
Wherever the blame might fall, it's hard to deny that the Inglewood district, home to 17,138 Latino, African-American and mostly poor students, is in a shambles. Already among the lowest in the state when Nash took over, the district's 1997 test scores for 6th- through 11th-grade students remain far below state averages. Students in the district's 8th, 9th and 10th grades perform at a 6th-grade level. At one middle school, 8th-graders read and write at a 4th-grade level.
One benchmark: Four years after Nash's arrival, the district still has not produced a state-required core curriculum - a written course of study for all students. "It's appalling and shocking," said Eleanor Clark-Thomas, manager of the state Department of Education's Coordinated Compliance Review Unit, which conducted a review of Inglewood's public schools in March. "They did terrible. It's almost unheard of for a district not to have a core curriculum."
By last February, parents were frustrated enough with deteriorating performance, book shortages, high teacher turnover and lavish fees for high-priced consultants that recall petitions were filed against three of the school-board members aligned with Nash. The petitions complain that some schools are so dependent on substitute teachers that children were recently sent home with nearly blank report cards. On one 7th-grader's report card, five out of seven grades were missing, and spaces allotted for a teacher's signature had been stamped "vacancy." The student did receive a D in drafting - a class he was never enrolled in.
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