CERRITOS — The ABC Unified School District, which has been without a superintendent for nearly eight months, has selected Larry L. Lucas, superintendent of Chino Unified School District, to run the 22,000-student system.
School board President Catherine Grant announced Tuesday that Lucas, 49, was the "unanimous and enthusiastic choice" of the seven-member ABC Board of Education.
Chosen Over 65 Others
A Southern California educator for 28 years, Lucas was chosen ahead of 65 other candidates on the basis of his planning skills and strength as a leader in instruction and curriculum, Grant said during a board meeting Tuesday.
"I hope I can live up to your expectations," said Lucas, who heads a district that is roughly the same size.
Lucas holds a bachelor's and a master's degree from Cal State Long Beach and a doctorate from USC. His appointment at ABC will become effective Aug. 15.
Grant said the district is still negotiating a contract with Lucas, who makes $84,000 at Chino. He has two years remaining on his contract there. Grant said the district has not decided on the size of his salary but "it will be in the high 80s."
Lucas replaces Kenneth L. Moffett, who quit in November after 15 months. Moffett resigned a week before a new board majority took office. Among the four new members elected in the November election were two of the district's harshest critics, Dixie Primosch and Jim Weisenberg. Both had asked for a grand jury investigation of ABC last year.
In 1986, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury found no evidence of wrongdoing or mismanagement but suggested that the district improve communication with parents. It also recommended that the district set up an advisory committee to give advice on the sale of surplus property. Questions had been raised over how money was to be spent from the sale of an elementary school closed because of declining enrollment in 1984.
Moffett was rehired as superintendent of the Lennox Elementary School District, which he left to join ABC. He said at the time he had grown weary of the turmoil that had beset ABC during his tenure there.
Moffett said he wanted to give the four new board members a chance to select a new superintendent. Assistant Supt. Charles Ledbetter has served as acting superintendent since Moffett's departure.
"I think this person is an excellent choice because of his leadership skills and track record," said Primosch.
"I heard the previous superintendent (Moffett) say he did not know what he had to deal with when he came to the district," she said. "We did not want this to happen again."
Primosch said the district conducted a rigorous search for the new superintendent, hiring a private consultant who defined qualities to look for in a leader.
In the days before his selection, Lucas was briefed on what the board considered to be the district's major goals and problems.
"We didn't want any surprises," Weisenberg said.
Lucas was told that the board wanted to maintain a balanced budget with a 2% reserve. The current budget for the 1988-89 school year is $105 million with $2 million in reserve.
Other concerns included an enrollment imbalance that has left a few schools crowded while others have empty classrooms, Primosch said.
Lucas was also told of the controversy involving Whitney High, the district's college-preparatory school. Whitney was ranked as the No. 1 academic public school in the state this year based on scores on the California Accountability Program test given each year to seniors. But in June, two teachers from two of the district's other high schools suggested that Whitney is an elitist institution that receives preferential treatment from the district and should be closed.
Lucas said he was generally aware of the Whitney situation but could not comment on it in detail.
"A district can't allow pockets of excellence . . . (but) I don't think ABC is doing that, given the fact Cerritos High just received a distinguished award" as one of 124 schools in the state to record outstanding academic improvement among its students.
Lucas was accompanied to the ABC board meeting by his son Stephen, 17, a junior at Huntington Beach High School, and former Chino board members William Van Dyk and Fred Henne.
"He (Lucas) has great management skills," said Henne, former president of the Chino school board. "He is a dynamic educational leader."
The Chino district, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County, is in a tremendous growth area, has two elementary schools scheduled to open this fall and one high school scheduled to open in 1991, said Henne.
"Larry helped plan for all of this. He recruited teachers, he planned curriculum," Henne said.
Over the past two or three years, the Chino district has been struggling to overcome what began as a $2-million deficit, said board member Harold Nelms. Now the deficit is down to about $700,000.
"We have had to pinch pennies, put a freeze on everything we could including classroom equipment," Nelms said.
But Nelms said that Lucas was not to blame because state funding cuts triggered the same problem in many other district.
"Overall," Nelms said, "he (Lucas) has done a very good job for Chino."
Lucas, who graduated from Paramount High School, said he was excited about coming to the ABC district because there were many similarities between it and the Chino system. The Cerritos area was once a dairy-farming community that experienced tremendous development in the '60s and '70s, and Chino is going through similar growth now, he said.
Before going to Chino, Lucas was assistant superintendent of instruction in the Huntington Beach Union High School District. He had previously worked as a teacher, counselor and administrator in the district for 25 years.
He and his son live in Huntington Beach. In June, Lucas' wife, Jeanine, died of cancer.