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Inglewood teachers lash out at schools chief for insensitive remarks

Inglewood Unified school trustee Don Brann came under harsh criticism Wednesday night for his remarks to KPCC expressing concerns for his safety in the city.
Inglewood Unified school trustee Don Brann came under harsh criticism Wednesday night for his remarks to KPCC expressing concerns for his safety in the city.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

Inglewood Unified School District teachers, staff, and parents blasted schools trustee Don Brann Wednesday night at the first public meeting following his remarks that he felt unsafe in the city.

“Dr. Brann, I’ve been really, really angry this past month or so. What have we done to make you scared of us?” asked 6th-grade teacher Aba Ngissah during public comments at the monthly board of education meeting.

Brann serves as the school board in his capacity as trustee. He was appointed to the position by recently reelected state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson after the state took control of the failing school district two years ago.

In an interview with KPCC in September, Brann justified his $135,000 security detail by saying he didn’t feel safe in Inglewood. The city's population is mostly black and Latino. 

“I don’t want to get hurt here,” said Brann, who is white. “I don’t know enough about present day Inglewood to know how good the chances are for that. So I’m just erring on the side of safety.” 

Brann lives in nearby El Segundo, a mostly white city.

Teacher Ngissah suggested Brann take a cultural bias workshop to work through his feelings.

“These statements didn’t build up Inglewood like you said you’d come to do, but it’s actually fed the stereotypes people have of Inglewood. And that is totally unacceptable and it’s wrong because the children of Inglewood deserve better,” Ngissah said.

Most of the half a dozen people who addressed Brann’s comments were critical of them, but none called for him to resign from the speaker’s podium. Some were more candid in interviews later.

“We want him gone. He’s not for our children anymore,” said Cheryl Joseph, an Inglewood elementary school aide. “If he was for our children we would have security, we would have janitors work,” she said, referring to colleagues laid off by Brann in a cost-cutting move.

One speaker, longtime Inglewood Unified activist Diane Sambrano, backed Brann’s concerns.

“I’ve been in the city long enough to be told I needed to be wearing a jacket, the bulletproof kind. I’ve had men come to my door because someone didn’t like what I said,” she said.

Brann did not respond directly to any of the speakers after their comments. But during a meeting break, Brann dismissed the criticisms about his comments on his safety.

“I think that got really blown out of proportion around the election of state superintendent. Crazy things happen when elections go on,” he said. He also brushed off the suggestion that he needs to take a bias workshop.

After strong negative reaction to his comments to KPCC, Brann issued an apology in an Oct. 9 letter to Inglewood Mayor James Butts and other city leaders. "My recent comments were insensitive to the Inglewood community which I’m privileged to serve, and I offer my deepest apologies to Mayor Butts, Councilmembers and to the entire Inglewood community." 

In 2012, as Inglewood Unified faced bankruptcy because of enrollment drops, state funding cuts, and mismanagement by top school district administrators, the school district’s board of education requested a $55 million state loan. That request triggered the state to step in and a loss of local control.

Brann is the third trustee appointed by Torlakson to run Inglewood Unified in the past two years. Appointed in June 2013, Brann has laid off scores of teachers and other employees to help close a budget deficit. 

Lack of improvements in dilapidated, unclean facilities in the district prompted a KPCC report earlier this month. After the report, Brann initiated steps for repairs and clean up.

In an update released Wednesday night, Brann said the district developed an action plan that includes pressure-washing of Inglewood High restrooms, full-time custodians assigned to restrooms, and monthly walk-throughs by the school principal and district officials.

He said in his 15 months at Inglewood Unified, the district made "major progress in reducing the operating budget deficit to just under $4.8 million" and "we are on track to completely eliminate the funding gap by 2015-16."

This story has been updated.