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Inglewood schools chief criticized over costs of his security detail

Inglewood Unified Supt. Don Brann's security costs have been questioned as the district loses on-campus officers.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

When Don Brann arrived in Inglewood, his marching orders were clear: Keep the city’s debt-plagued school district from tumbling into financial chaos.

The state-appointed superintendent cut costs and trimmed staff to save the necessary millions, including laying off 23 on-campus security officers, leaving campus police to monitor the campuses when school started this fall.

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FOR THE RECORD: An article on the Inglewood School District in the Oct. 26 California section incorrectly stated that former Superintendent La Tanya Kirk-Carter was fired. Kirk-Carter was not fired; she left the school district voluntarily in June after reaching a negotiated agreement with the district. The article stated that Kirk-Carter left after the extent of the district’s financial problems was discovered. The financial problems were already known and existed before she was named superintendent. The article also stated that during Kirk-Carter’s tenure the district depleted its reserve funds, was operating at a $17.7-million deficit and had spent nearly half of its $55 million in emergency funds. In fact, according to the California Department of Education, the district had no reserves, ended the 2013-14 fiscal year with a deficit of $11.9 million and spent $10 million of its $29 million in emergency funds.

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Now, parents and community leaders are questioning why the cash-strapped Inglewood Unified School District is paying for an armed California Highway Patrol officer to serve as Brann’s personal driver and bodyguard.

Though no known threats have been made against Brann, the veteran school administrator inherited a $200,000 contract for the security detail in July 2013. Last month he approved another $135,000 in school district funds to extend the service through July 2015.

Brann explained to parents and community leaders at a Sept. 30 school board meeting that he feared for his safety in Inglewood.

“I didn’t come here to get hurt,” Brann said. He later told reporters, “I don’t know enough about present-day Inglewood to know how good the chances are for that.”

The city had a notorious reputation in the 1990s, when gang wars and drug running were at a peak, but violent crime in Inglewood has decreased dramatically in recent years.

Brann wrote a letter to the city a week later, apologizing for his “unfortunate choice of words.” But parents and school board members said they were stung by his remarks. One board member called for his resignation.

Now, as the controversy brews, Brann is on a 2 1/2-week vacation, adding to the frustration of some. State education leaders said that Brann planned the vacation after it was determined it would be the least disruptive time of year.

Some in the community said the 68-year-old veteran educator’s comments about Inglewood reveal a man intimidated by the community he serves, someone willing to spend money on his protection but not on that of the students in the district he oversees.

“If he is afraid to be in Inglewood, then he should not be in Inglewood,” said Johnny Young, a school board member. The board acts in an advisory role and holds no legislative power, according to the terms of the state’s takeover of the financially troubled school district in 2012.

The renewal of Brann’s security detail comes as the district struggles with a $4.8-million deficit and mounting job cuts.

For the first two weeks of school, many campuses were without guards after the security officers were laid off. Ten of the 23 officers have since been rehired, but Brann’s critics said he continues to jeopardize the safety of the 11,000 students in the district.

“This is a broke district,” said Chris Graeber, representative for the California Professional Employees, the union that represents non-teaching employees such as security officers. “Every penny should be scrutinized. The taxpayers are paying top dollar for somebody who sits in the car. This is not like Biden is in town, or the president.”

Brann’s predecessor, La Tanya Kirk-Carter, was first assigned an armed CHP officer in an unmarked patrol car when the district received threats that law enforcement deemed credible. The cost for security was not to exceed $200,000.

Months later, Kirk-Carter was fired after it was discovered the district had depleted its reserve, was operating at a $17.7-million deficit and, in a single year, had blown through half of the $55 million set aside as emergency funds.

Brann was brought in to keep the district solvent, and the security was transferred to the new superintendent.

“It was nothing I asked for,” Brann said at the recent meeting. “It was very unusual for me, because my name is in the phone book and there’s a pole out in front of my house that says the ‘Brann Clan,’ and I’ve lived the last — all my life — in public.”

CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader would not disclose whether Brann received any threats, citing security issues. But one former state administrator said security should be built into the job.

The position requires that the administrator make tough decisions, including massive budget cuts and staff reductions, said Randy Ward, the San Diego County superintendent of schools, who served as the state-appointed administrator of the Oakland and Compton school districts during their respective takeovers.

“The more reductions you make, the more that entails emotions, the more possibility there is of somebody going off on you,” Ward said. “I don’t think there are many jobs out there that are worth dying for.”

He said $335,000 for two years of security is a fair rate.

angel.jennings@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATangel


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