Inglewood Board Again Shifts Against Fortune

Times Staff Writer

For the second time in less than a year, Supt. Rex Fortune has lost the support of a majority of the Inglewood School Board, a development that Fortune supporters say could again distract school officials from educational issues in the troubled district.

During a closed session last week, three board members gave Fortune a vote of no confidence and suggested that he look for another job.

Board members William (Tony) Draper, William Dorn and Caroline Coleman formed the majority, according to Draper. Ernest Shaw and Rose Mary Benjamin voted in support of Forutune.

Draper said that although the board will not try to fire Fortune, who was dismissed last year and rehired six weeks later after a storm of protest from parents, "what will happen is the board is going to try to force him out of the district. It's going to get ugly."

It was Fortune's loss of Draper's support that allowed the no-confidence measure to pass. Draper said that in the past two months, Fortune has been "catering to the people who fired him," referring to board members Shaw, Coleman and Dorn. The three make up a coalition that usually forms a majority on board votes.

"He is making deals with other board members to put people in certain positions," Draper said, alluding to a recent incident in which Fortune sided with the board majority in overlooking a search committee's recommendation for a receptionist and instead hiring the third choice for the job.

"Once you start doing things like that, a certain amount of integrity is gone. It's time for him to go," Draper said.

Fortune said he stands by his hiring recommendations and said the decision on the receptionist and other personnel matters represented his willingness to work out differences with board members.

As to the suggestion that he seek another job, Fortune said he is "not actively looking for a new job," although he has been named one of six finalists to replace the retiring superintendent of the Seattle School District. Seattle officials said Fortune was invited to apply for the job after he was recommended during a nationwide search.

Fortune, who has two children in Inglewood schools, earns an annual salary of $62,500 under a contract that extends through June, 1988.

In No Hurry

He said the district would suffer if he were to leave now. "Suffice it to say that I won't close my eyes to other options, but I am not in any hurry to leave the district," he said. "We've started on the right track to reduce class sizes and improve the general learning environment in our schools. If I left now, all earlier efforts might be lost.

"These conflicts are killing the district. We are still reeling from the board's action's last year."

Both supporters and opponents of Fortune say it will be difficult for him to lead the district if the board refuses to approve his policies.

"To me he is just a lame duck and that is really sad because it's really the children who lose in a case like this," said Shaw, who wondered aloud whether the district has spent more time dealing with political matters than actual educational issues in the past year.

Lose Sight of Goal

"We have a tendency to lose sight of our goal, which is to provide quality education for our children, when we become sidetracked by our personal attacks against each other," he said.

Shaw said it will take another show of support from parents to keep Fortune from leaving.

"Realistically, I think it is going to get to the place where he is going to throw in the towel unless some of the parents step forward to his defense," Shaw said. "Right now it looks like the parents are going to sit this one out."

Most parents do not yet know about the board's decision, said Inglewood PTA Council President Zyra McCloud. "When we found out he was a candidate for that job in Seattle we thought: 'How could he think of leaving when we have given him so much support?' " McCloud said.

Recall Effort

After the board fired Fortune last May, furious parents protested at several board meetings and launched an effort to recall the three board members who voted to dismiss him. Shaw eventually reversed his stance and cast the crucial third vote needed to rehire the superintendent.

"We need him here to continue with the progress he has made," McCloud said. "Once the parents find out, you better believe they're going to come out fighting on this one."

McCloud said the PTA Council will probably hold a special meeting next week to discuss the board's action.

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