COMPTON — Anthony Ford, a muscular student-athlete, was almost a statistic.
Had he not changed his mind, he would have been one of an estimated 2,500 former Compton students who attend school, both legally and illegally, in neighboring cities.
The students' departures, officials say, cost Compton Unified School District more than $5 million annually and reinforce the perception that schools here are not as good as others nearby.
They also are an ongoing cause of dispute among many school districts that have tried with mixed success to solve the educational problems spawned by district-hopping students.
Changed His Plans
"When I was coming out of junior high school, I wasn't going to go to Compton either," said Ford, a sprinter and long jumper, after finishing a workout at the Compton High School track last Friday.
"There were a lot of good football players who were with me in junior high who went on to Lynwood and Carson," he said. "A lot of them have relatives in other cities and they just go by their addresses."
Ford, who stayed at Compton High because of a respected track coach, named two former Compton students who still live here but attend high school in Carson. Another athlete mentioned a pair of sisters who had lived across the street from Compton High but moved so they could attend a Long Beach high school.
Student Brought Back
Varsity basketball Coach Eddie Thomas told of a youngster whose phony Lynwood address had been discovered and who had been returned to Compton High.
Others offered more names of students, both athletes and non-athletes, who have left Compton schools in recent years. They have left in a number of ways, some legal and some not, Compton officials maintain.
Some students simply move with their families, while many move in with relatives in other cities. A few dozen others obtain hard-to-get interdistrict transfers. All three ways are legal. A fourth method--giving an address at which the student does not really live--is illegal.
Officials at neighboring districts said they do everything in their power to prohibit illegal transfers but conceded that there is little that can be done to prevent students when they move legally from one district to another.
School Loses 3 Ways
The departure of hundreds of youngsters by whatever means can sap a district of some of its best students and their supportive parents, and in the long run lower teachers' expectations of the students who remain, said Compton Supt. Ted Kimbrough.
In addition, each student departure will cost the 27,000-student Compton Unified School District $2,180 in state money this school year.
Attendance dollars for just seven of those students could have paid the $15,000 salary of a first-year Compton teacher. And, if all 2,500 students who are said to have left for nearby districts had stayed, the Compton district's $93-million annual budget could have been about $5.5 million greater.
Parents Sending Message
But they didn't stay--and Supt. Charlie Mae Knight of Lynwood, whose district Kimbrough has criticized for not doing all it can to identify Compton students who transfer improperly, said disgruntled parents are sending a message to many school districts.
"Those of us who work here in the inner city have found that parents will sell their souls for quality education," she said. "If we think for a moment that we can offer poor-quality education and stuff it down their throats, we're wrong. What we have to do is improve the quality of education so there won't be an exodus."
Lynwood Rolls Climb
Enrollment in the Lynwood district, which, like Compton, is primarily low income and minority, has increased from 10,000 to 12,800 during the last four years. The increase reflects a dramatic jump in the Latino population of the city, said Bob Jones, attendance director for Lynwood schools. Knight attributed the rise in enrollment to increased confidence by parents in the Lynwood schools.
Knight acknowledged that Lynwood to some degree has had the same problem as Compton, losing white students to predominantly white districts and some black athletes to suburban schools. The recruiting of talented high school athletes by coaches from schools in other districts has been reported repeatedly in recent years.
Shifts Are Widespread
Knight said shifts in student residency are widespread. "We're not the only ones getting Compton football players," she said. "That's the biggest racket going."
Kimbrough, the Compton superintendent, said disenchanted parents are reacting to false impressions, and that curriculum and instruction at schools in neighboring communities are no better than that at Compton's three high schools and eight junior highs.
"A lot of this stuff is just perceptions," said Kimbrough, a former administrator for the Los Angeles school district. "That's one of the things that drives kids from public schools to private schools. It's a phenomenon that takes place particularly in the urban setting."