COMPTON — Latino leaders say the Compton school board's recent appointment of J. L. Handy as superintendent is one more example of the "systematic discrimination" against Latinos in the district.
Latinos campaigned for acting superintendent Elisa L. Sanchez to be promoted to the top job. But the Board of Trustees last month selected Handy, who is black, to head the Compton Unified School District. Six of the seven trustees are black; the other is Latino.
Sanchez will return to her previous job as deputy superintendent.
"What qualifications does he have that she doesn't?" asked Joseph Ochoa, a veteran Latino activist. "She's been there three or four years. She balanced the budget. You can see it's discrimination. What else is it?"
Trustee Kelvin D. Filer vehemently denied that the board chose Handy because he is black: "Race had nothing to do with the selection, absolutely nothing."
He said Handy impressed the board with his knowledge and understanding of the district, did his homework and is known as an administrator able to remedy troublesome situations.
Tensions between the Latino community and the black-controlled school district and black-run city government have been escalating as the city's Latino population and school enrollment increase.
In the district last year, 50.3% of the enrollment was Latino, and that percentage is expected to increase. Five years ago, Latino enrollment was 33%.
Latino teachers and administrators represent less than 4% of the educational staff in the schools. And only about 9% of city government workers are Latino.
Latinos have been demanding that both the city and the school district form affirmative action plans for hiring, and parents want the school district to hire more Spanish-speaking teachers. The parents complain that their children are being taught largely by Spanish-speaking classroom aides.
District officials said they are forced to rely heavily on aides because they cannot find enough bilingual teachers to serve the 8,000 children in the 26,000-student district who need bilingual education.
Some black trustees and educators are openly hostile to the idea of having to spend shrinking budget dollars on bilingual education.
Latino leaders also said they complained for years about conditions at Jefferson Elementary School, a dilapidated facility on the city's north side, one of the oldest Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles County.
All but about 50 of the nearly 700 children at Jefferson are Latino. Most of the students attended class in old portable buildings that were so deteriorated that the school board this summer ordered them bulldozed. New portables are being moved onto the site in time for the first day of school, Sept. 11.
After Handy's appointment was announced, Ochoa said that Latino parents should consider protesting by keeping their children out of school for three or four days. "It would bankrupt them," Ochoa said of the financially strapped district.
State aid received by Compton and other districts is based average daily attendance.
"I don't think (district officials) could have gotten anybody more qualified than Mrs. Sanchez," said another activist, Gorgonio Sanchez, who is not related to Elisa Sanchez. "I think they're concerned more with political control of the district than with the quality of education."
Pedro Pallon, a local bakery owner active in the Latino Chamber of Commerce, said about Elisa Sanchez: "She balanced the budget. Here we're getting an outsider, someone who doesn't know the issues, (or how) the district is politically divided. She knows all this.
"Every time we get a good person in a position (to move up), right away for some reason or other they get either bypassed or demoted."
Sanchez was named acting superintendent early this year when Ted D. Kimbrough left to head the Chicago school system. During the last seven months she steered the district through a difficult budget crunch that necessitated layoffs. She was on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment.
Sanchez came to the district in 1983 as an associate superintendent and was later made deputy, largely overseeing all the instructional and curricula issues. She holds a master's degree in education from San Diego State University.
Handy holds a master's degree from San Jose State University and received his Ph.D. from the University of La Verne in 1987. He has been a school principal and was assistant superintendent in Sacramento for the last two years.