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School Board Secretary Returns to Activism

By Teresa Rochester

Long before Barbara Inatsugu was paid to sit through School Board meetings, she attended them as a concerned activist and parent.

Next month she will return to her roots.

After eight years as the board's backbone, Inatsugu -- likely the most well known school district employee next to the superintendent -- will resign from her position to devote more time to her husband of 33 years, her children and grandchildren and her activism.

"There are some other reasons besides the proverbial 'it's time to move on with other parts of my life,'" said Inatsugu, who moved to Santa Monica in 1983 and is president of the city's chapter of the League of Women Voters.

"There is not a lot of flexibility within this kind of job. I knew that going in. The way my life is going, with the type of things I'm involved in, also my family, it was time to move on."

Supt. Neil Schmidt said it would be difficult to find someone to replace Inatsugu, who has been the board's secretary during most of his tenure.

"She's been outstanding," said Schmidt, who will retire in June 2001. "She's added a whole new dimension to this position and she's going to be very difficult to replace."

Well known to education observers as the woman responsible for getting board agendas together, fielding questions from board members and the public and assisting the superintendent, Inatsugu also has a high profile in the civic world.

Aside from serving five and a half years as president of the Santa Monica Chapter of the League of Women Voters, Inatsugu also is vice president of the organization's state branch. During the November elections she juggled her job with the task of organizing countless candidate forums and shuttling between Santa Monica and Sacramento.

But long before Inatsugu joined the League of Women Voters she was active in the PTA Council and the regional PTA. Currently she serves as chair of the PTA legislative committee and helps to organize an annual trip to Sacramento for parents and students. Before she started work with the district, Inatsugu also was active on District Advisory Committees.

"She hit the ground running in the beginning. She knew a lot about the schools," said former School Board president Patricia Hoffman. "She wanted to be an activist still, often like what you see with [City] council members. That was the hardest, to learn not to be an activist on the job."

Inatsugu said she chose to join the district as a way of complementing her work as an education activist. Now she's looking forward to getting back into her old role.

"There are things going on in the community regarding education that I'd like to be involved in," Inatsugu said. "I'm taking my public advocacy and redirecting it. I'm not disappearing."

"Public education became a very high priority in the community so people were starting to coalesce around issues. I think at one point they will be working together. I think the League of Women Voters needs to be at the table… It's a stronger movement than what I've seen in my time here, which is really exciting."

Board members who are used to seeing Inatsugu on their side of the dais met her resignation with sadness.

"I'm very sad but I understand," said board vice president Tom Pratt. "I'm really going to miss here. She was very instrumental in helping me become accustomed to the board."

Inatsugu plans to step down from her post on January 15, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day she deliberately picked to show her support of King's philosophy and approach. As a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Westside Coalition, Inatsugu plans to be at Santa Monica College that day participating in the college's annual involvement day.

A Los Angeles native who grew up in Hawaii, Inatsugu said her first priority after resigning will be to spend time with her family. Her first order of business is to purchase two car seats so she can tote around her grandchildren.

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