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Ouster Looms for Head of Lynwood's School District

January 28, 1990|LEE HARRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LYNWOOD — The superintendent of the Lynwood Unified School District, which has been plagued by overcrowded classes, a shortage of books, low student achievement scores and a large number of teacher resignations, is on the verge of being ousted.

The five-member Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting Monday morning to discuss whether to dismiss LaVoneia Steele and buy up the rest of her contract, which expires July 1, 1991. Her salary was $66,000 a year when the contract was signed in 1985. President Joe T. Battle said: "There have been so many problems. All of them will be discussed Monday."

He said teachers have complained that they are just receiving books that should have been delivered at the beginning of the school year last September. Others have complained of having to use the libraries as classrooms because of lack of space. Several teachers have also reported that they have not received pay increases awarded under a new contract signed last September, Battle said.

"When we have asked the administration why these things (complaints) are not being taken care of, we have not gotten a response or a we've gotten a no-comment," Battle said.

He added that the majority of the board "is dissatisfied with goals and objectives that the district has set."

Steele, who was appointed chief administrator of the 14,500-student district in October, 1985, said she would not comment on the buyout plan. "You'll have to wait and see what happens," she said.

However, Steele apparently told others about the board's intentions.

Alice McHugh, president of the Riordan Foundation, said Steele told her the board had voted to buy out her contract and ask her to leave.

McHugh said the foundation was impressed with Steele's leadership, and contributed more than $170,000 in computer equipment to the district. If Steele leaves, McHugh said, the foundation may consider withholding another $400,000 that it promised to raise and donate to the computer program.

The Riordan Foundation contributes millions of dollars to inner-city schools for computer programs to teach elementary school students reading and writing. Prominent attorney Richard Riordan, president of the Coliseum Commission, is the foundation's chairman.

JoAnn Daniels, the president of the Lynwood Teachers Assn., said Steele also told her that the board plans to discuss her dismissal.

Daniels said she was "shocked" about the development, but added: "The district is in a mess. I don't know who is to blame but I guess it falls on her because she is the leader."

At the beginning of the school year, a number of parents picketed schools and the superintendent's office to complain about overcrowded classes, lack of teachers and dirty campuses.

The troubled district was hit by a wave of teacher resignations over the summer. Officials said several teachers departed to take better-paying jobs in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which raised teacher salaries last May after a strike. At the time, Lynwood teachers had been working for more than a year without a contract.

In an effort to halt the exodus, Lynwood officials threatened to ask the state to suspend the teaching credentials of any teacher who resigned after June 30, the technical deadline for submitting resignations.

Union officials estimated that as many as 100 of the district's 650 teachers resigned.

The district was also fined last year by the state for violating the state's limit on class sizes. A fine of $360,000 was levied for consistently violating the limit on class sizes in elementary schools during the 1988-89 school year. State officials also found that the district allowed students from different grades to be placed in the same classes, rather than hiring substitutes when regular teachers were absent.

The district has made progress in clearing up the overcrowding, said Wade Brynelson, director of the state school Compliance and Consolidation Programs Division. "There has been a turnaround in the last six months," he added.

Daniels said, however, that teachers have reported recently that some classes remain overcrowded. Earlier last week, the district's assistant superintendent for personnel, Jewel Lee, said about 18 teaching positions were unfilled.

BACKGROUND LaVoneia Steele was appointed superintendent of the Lynwood Unified School District in October, 1985. Steele replaced Charlie Mae Knight, who resigned after being suspended by the school board. Steele was given a three-year contract at $66,000 a year. Her contract was extended for an additional three years, expiring July 1, 1991.

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