By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Finances for the 20-school district are similarly in disarray. Last month, county education officials ordered the district to return $143,500 in state funds because of faulty attendance record-keeping. And county education officials reviewing the district's 1997-98 budget of $86 million warn of a looming $945,355 general-fund deficit.
Outside efforts to assist the district have been squandered. When the state launched a $28 million program to update school buildings, district administrators ran up a $4.7 million shortfall in the project, and state officials are demanding the replacement of $1.9 million allocated for furniture and equipment that was diverted for construction costs.
In the meantime, some campuses are dilapidated to the point of posing a public menace. At Warren Lane Elementary School earlier this year, bathrooms were so filthy and reeked so strongly of urine that children refused to use them. Alerted by parents, county health inspectors found 25 violations of the health and safety code during a February 27 visit to the school.
At that same school, on March 23, a 7-year-old had the tip of his index finger severed when he tried to lift a heavy steel grating left unsecured on a playground by maintenance workers. The boy was one of several unsupervised students on the playground. "Nash is aware of the conditions of the school," said parent Carolyn Johnson. "He's been superintendent for four years. He's just noticed?"
Of course, poor student performance and shabby facilities are nothing new for Inglewood. As in nearby Compton, widespread poverty and chronic mismanagement have combined to keep the school district near the top of the roster of community maladies.
In fact, Nash was drafted by the school board in 1994 to reform a district many feared was spiraling out of control. By April 1997 the school board changed course, firing Nash for his management style. But Nash proved tenacious, and in the end savored a stunning triumph over the board members who had ousted him. In June, two months after he was removed from his post, Nash and his allies in the community managed to elect a new, pro-Nash majority. The newly configured board then voted to rescind his termination and rehire him. They also agreed to increase his annual $108,000 salary by 6 percent, upped his monthly car allowance to $700 and extended his contract to 1999. (Last week, the board voted to extend Nash's contract to 2001, with an additional 5 percent salary increase and the stipulation that he would subsequently be retained by the district as a consultant.)
That demonstration of community support, however, may say more about Nash's survival skills than it does about any revised estimation of his capabilities. According to his critics, Nash cultivated key sectors of support by doling out special favors that cost the district sorely needed funds.
Local churches played a pivotal role in that year's school-board election, speaking fiercely on his behalf - and in their own best interest. One local pastor, Wayne Hawkins of the First Presbyterian Church of Inglewood, now enjoys full-time employment in the newly created position of community liaison for the district's adult school. And back in 1995, Nash personally waived more than $14,000 in school-facility fees for the Jacob's Ladder Community Fellowship. At the time, fee waivers for the use of campus auditoriums were rare and needed board approval, but Nash directed an employee to process the paperwork without it. The superintendent has since changed the policy so that waivers only require his signature.
The Inglewood Teachers Association made news during the campaign by threatening a lawsuit that would reinstate Nash. And like the ministers, the teachers union benefited under Nash. Though still among the lowest-paid in Los Angeles County, district teachers have received pay increases totaling 15 percent over the last four years. During the same period, Nash doubled the amount of paid time union president Shirley Mims may take away from her high school teaching job to do union work, and last year her husband was awarded a reported $18,000 district contract to recruit teachers. Mims refused to comment for this story.
Little in Nash's public demeanor suggests the degree of animus he arouses in his critics. Reclining sleepy-eyed in a high-backed leather chair, he presides over meetings of the district board with the quiet confidence of a patient grandparent. A native of Shreveport, Louisiana, Nash is often self-effacing and likes to sprinkle his conversations with folksy witticisms.
But a review of his 35-year career as a public-school administrator shows that Nash has encountered controversy before, and has always managed to land on his feet. In 1980, Nash was appointed to fill one of two newly created associate-superintendent slots at a school district in Evanston, Illinois. Less than a year later, the district's superintendent called for the elimination of Nash's position because it had "not worked as well as anticipated." Charging that Nash's removal was racially motivated, local black ministers threatened to organize a school boycott. After several contentious public meetings on the issue, district officials agreed to form a committee to ensure black representation in school administration.
Still facing the loss of his job, Nash resigned to take an assistant superintendent's post with the Centinela Valley Union High School District, which neighbors Inglewood. In 1983, Nash was named superintendent, but soon found his job threatened again. By 1989, district teachers complained that Nash had labeled them as racists for daring to criticize his failure to improve student performance. Teachers successfully campaigned to unseat three school-board members who supported Nash, and in 1990 he was fired. Nash filed a lawsuit charging racial discrimination; the district later settled for $150,000.