On the evening of Nov. 8, the Inglewood school board will be whole again.
After a year of tumult caused partly by two vacancies on the five-member board, a special election pits Joseph Rouzan, the city’s former police chief and assistant city manager, against Jewett Walker, a young PTA activist and insurance underwriter.
The election will fill the final board vacancy. Another vacancy was filled in a special April election.
Both Walker and Rouzan are running campaigns that emphasize qualifications over politics, a theme reflective of the mood in a school community weary of political strife. But both men are not without political ties.
Joseph Rouzan, 56, served as Inglewood police chief from 1981 to 1986 and now owns a security consulting business. He has a considerable fund-raising lead over Walker, 38, an insurance underwriter whose work with parent groups includes heading the business Adopt-A-School program of the district’s Parent and Community Action Team.
As of Sept. 30, the last campaign disclosure date, Rouzan had raised more than $13,000 in contributions, according to county election officials. Walker said in an interview that he has raised less than $5,000. County election officials said he has been asked to file an amendment to his original campaign statement, which indicated that he had raised less than $1,000.
Another edge for Rouzan is the experience, name recognition and political contacts cultivated during his career as Inglewood police chief and, for part of that time, assistant city manager as well. He previously was police chief and city manager in Compton.
Rouzan served briefly on the five-member school board last year when trustees appointed him to fill a vacancy left by the sudden death of Ernest Shaw. But activists angered by the secretive nature of the appointment process mounted a petition drive that forced a special election in April.
Rouzan did not run in the April election, which was won by Larry Aubry. Rouzan and Walker, who also was not a candidate in the April election, are now running for a vacancy created by the resignation of board member Rose Mary Benjamin in February. The winner will be up for election again next year.
Both Walker and Rouzan have deemphasized political ties and endorsements, while stressing qualifications and calling for an end to political interference by board members in school district administration.
This theme appears to reflect a new, hopeful mood in the Inglewood school community resulting from the hiring of Supt. George McKenna, a nationally known educator who has pledged to unite the district and place education above politics.
Rouzan presents himself as a veteran administrator with valuable experience in law enforcement, government and business. He said recently: “I have served the community for 34 years. After three years in business, I want to return to public life.”
He said his presence on the board will result in increased cooperation between the business community and the district. He also calls for hiring more male teachers to serve as role models for male students, and says teachers should play a more active role in the community, “going to students’ homes if necessary, just as we have police officers go to homes.”
Board members Aubry, Caroline Coleman and Lois Hill-Hale are supporting Rouzan. Hill-Hale said Thursday that she is backing Rouzan because he is “the most qualified and most electable” candidate.
Board member Zyra McCloud, a former PTA president who was elected last year, said she supports Walker because he has worked hard in local community and parent organizations and will be more accountable to district parents than Rouzan.
Rouzan says he has the endorsement of many other politicians but has held off on publicizing them because of past controversy over the influence of outside politicians on board members.
Walker says he has few endorsements and also has chosen not to focus on them.
‘I Had a Choice’
“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I’m a parent and a citizen. I had a choice. I decided to get involved.”
Walker says some of the most pressing problems facing the financially strapped district include overcrowding, poor maintenance of school buildings and teachers who are not teaching in their areas of expertise.
Walker presents himself as a young, energetic newcomer with no ambitions other than improving education in the district. He and others have noted that Rouzan has been mentioned as a potential candidate for higher office, such as Inglewood mayor, and that the school board could serve as a political springboard.
While Rouzan said he does not rule out a race for mayor, he said: “I haven’t thought about that at all.”
One issue that has caused a few sparks between the candidates is how the district will serve its burgeoning Latino population, which has risen to around 40% while the black population has decreased to about 58%. There are no Latinos on the school board and few in the ranks of administrators and teachers.
Walker has called for an effort to hire more Latinos in significant positions and for increased sensitivity to the Latino population, whose situation, he said, is comparable to that of blacks who struggled for representation in the district 20 years ago when it was predominantly white.
Rouzan has agreed the district needs to do more for Latinos, while adding that a shortage of Latino educators is a nationwide problem. In apparent response to charges by Walker that he is not sufficiently sensitive to Latinos, Rouzan has said he will appoint a local Latino businessman, Charles Coronado, to a districtwide advisory group he plans to name if elected.