Photo by Robert Hale

Days after a jury ruled that the Inglewood school district is liable to a former employee to the tune of $420,000 for sexual harassment and emotional distress, the official whose actions sparked the case, Inglewood schools Superintendent McKinley Nash, died of a heart attack.

The 65-year-old superintendent, with five years at the helm of the 17,000-student district, died on Independence Day.

In a statement issued by the school board, Nash’s colleagues lauded his efforts to bring in charitable contributions to the schools, improve test scores among younger students and improve educational opportunities for students of color.

“Dr. Nash has done some good things for the district,” said school-board member Gloria Gray. “He was very passionate about what he believed in, and I think he did some good things.”

Nash was also controversial. His detractors accused him of an autocratic style that led to bitter recriminations against dissident district employees. School-board elections during his tenure were charged affairs, usually turning on slates of candidates holding for or against the superintendent. Nash was fired in 1997, but the board majority was overturned in an election two months later, and Nash was promptly reinstated.

Nash’s tenure was further marred by the district’s ongoing litigation relating to the bungled implementation of a $28 million state-funded revitalization project in the early 1990s. Money destined for much-needed school repairs was allegedly squandered or siphoned off, leaving many of the district’s 16 schools, critics say, looking virtually untouched even though hundreds of thousands of dollars — millions in some cases, had been spent at individual schools.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the district’s past experience, Nash reportedly hoped to use the last two years of his tenure to monitor personally the spending of $131 million in school-bond funds that Inglewood voters overwhelmingly approved last November.

Nash also had many boosters, prominent among them Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, who credited Nash with sparking a revival of the city’s lackluster schools.

“When Superintendent Nash stepped in, we had one school above average, now we have 13,” the mayor said in an interview. “I am very proud of what we are doing. Test scores are going up all over.” (The actual test results are less sterling, with two elementary schools above the national average; several others are close. Middle and high school scores trail national averages.)

Just three days before Nash’s death, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury found Nash liable for damages to Kermet Dixson, 48, a former assistant superintendent of business services. Dixson asserted that she encountered a hostile work environment that included two wrongful demotions and degrading comments about women.

The jury heard four weeks of testimony before deciding in four days that Dixson should receive damages for lost wages, medical expenses and emotional distress as a result of Nash’s actions — which constituted a breach of contract and sexual harassment on the part of the school district. The jury rejected punitive damages and allegations of gender discrimination in the case. Nash’s death does not affect the decision, according to Dixson’s attorney, Melanie Slaton.

Dixson has already received an undisclosed amount from the school district to settle a federal suit in relation to defamatory statements Nash allegedly made at a January 1996 school-board meeting linking her to an embezzlement scheme, Slaton confirmed. Following the accusations, Dixson was twice demoted with a total salary decrease of $40,000 annually.

While the defendants’ attorney, Rickey Ivie, of Ivie, McNeil & Wyatt, was unavailable for comment, the firm can expect more work, according to Slaton, who noted that other school employees also have defamation-related lawsuits pending against both Nash and the district.

Gloria Gray, recently elected to the Inglewood board, said Nash’s death will bring change to Inglewood’s schools. “We have an opportunity to look at what is going on in this district and make some critical decisions to move forward.”

As for Nash’s personal legacy, Gray said, “I am sure people will have their own interpretation of his contributions.

“I’d like to remember him as a very compassionate person.”

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