Feud Imperils Funds, State Tells Inglewood Schools : Accusations Fly in a Bitter Struggle

Times Staff Writer

After walking out on nearly 600 parents, teachers and community leaders at a meeting this week, members of the new majority on the Inglewood Unified School District board leveled a string of accusations against the two other board members and Supt. Rex Fortune.

At a press conference the day after Monday night's walkout, Trustees William Dorn, Caroline Coleman and Ernest Shaw charged that board President William (Tony) Draper, Vice President Rose Mary Benjamin and the superintendent are being controlled by Assemblyman Curtis R. Tucker (D-Inglewood) and the Ladera Heights Civic Assn.

The majority members--who themselves have been accused of being controlled by Inglewood Mayor Edward Vincent--claimed that Tucker wants control of the school board to support a mayoral bid in 1986.

The civic association, long considered a bastion of affluent blacks and whites in a largely impoverished district, wants to protect schools there that received favored treatment under the old majority, Shaw charged.

Draper, Benjamin, Fortune, Tucker and the association all have denied the charges.

"It's becoming obvious that this is not about education, but about political power, pure and simple," Fortune said. "Neither Assemblyman Tucker nor the civic association has ever asked, suggested or demanded that certain things be done. I am not under anyone's control."

In earlier statements, Fortune has said that the new majority is trying to fire him because he refused to promote a friend of the mayor to the post of principal. Vincent has denied asking Fortune to promote anyone.

Benjamin, who is supported by Tucker in her June 4 runoff election, said the assemblyman has never asked for favors in return for his endorsement.

Draper called Shaw's charge about favored treatment "preposterous."

Tucker denied that he ever attempted to exert influence over Fortune or board members, and termed the claim about his mayoral ambitions ridiculous.

"I have no desire to be mayor of Inglewood," he said. "I'm running for reelection for my assembly seat next year. Absolutely."

'Schlocky Bunch'

Tucker, who has spoken out against Vincent and board member Coleman in the past, countered that the majority's charges stem from "a desire to get me to stop making statements about them. They're a schlocky bunch of operators that don't deserve to be in office. They have totally suspended democratic process in the district."

As for the civic association, longtime member Frank Abell said: "Ladera Civic Assn. is thinking of what is best for Ladera, but they're not trying to control anybody. They're a civic organization. The school board has been acting very childishly. It's terrible to have three members acting so immaturely."

The press conference Tuesday was the latest episode in a volatile struggle between incoming and outgoing power blocs on the school board that began when power shifted in the April election from a faction composed of Draper, Benjamin and defeated member Ronni Cooper to the new majority.

Before Cooper left office, the board, fearing that the new members would try to fire the superintendent, extended Fortune's contract until 1988. As expected, as soon as Shaw replaced Cooper on the board April 22, the new majority tried to overturn Fortune's contract extension and depose Draper and Benjamin as the board's officers. Attorneys for the school board, the county and the state are still debating whether any of those actions were legal.

Committee Study

Asked why the new majority wants to fire Fortune, Dorn said they would not disclose their reasons until a majority-appointed committee had studied them. That committee has not yet been appointed, he said.

Shaw also accused Fortune of reneging last week on a compromise worked out by Fortune's attorney and a lawyer representing the majority. That compromise, Shaw said, called for Fortune to work until June 30, when the board would buy out the remaining year on his original three-year contract. The two-year contract extension passed by the old majority would be rescinded, he said.

Fortune, whose salary is $62,000 a year, denied agreeing to any such compromise, and said his attorney never attended such a meeting.

"I would have no reason to agree to such a compromise," he said. "I have a legally binding contract through 1988."

At Monday's special meeting--called by majority members to appoint an acting superintendent--Dorn, Coleman and Shaw stormed out moments before the meeting was scheduled to begin, after Draper refused to relinquish the president's seat to Dorn.

Recall Demanded

Lacking a quorum, Draper and Benjamin turned the meeting into a referendum on the absent board members, with several people in the audience demanding a recall.

"If those board members that walked out on our meeting and on our children are not willing to return as soon as possible, I move that we unite to have them removed," said parent Joseph Kay, who received a standing ovation.

Said parent Leontine Reamar, "We put them there with the ballot box. We can go to the ballot box and take them out. Fortune has been dealing with too many rattlesnakes."

While most in the crowd voiced support for Fortune, teachers' union President Genevieve Neustadter criticized him sharply, charging that he failed to bargain in good faith with teachers and has not been responsive to them during his nearly two years in office.

"We have filed 10 unfair labor practice grievances against the district because we could not sit down with Fortune," she said.

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