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As Ax Falls, Schools Chief Feels the Heat : Budget: Layoffs, pay cuts are ordered. State administrator faces allegations of bad management, unfairness and racism.

July 29, 1993|HOWARD BLUME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COMPTON — Austerity measures approved Tuesday for the financially struggling Compton school system inspired a chorus of condemnation from district officials and employees.

The cost-cutting moves included pay cuts, slashed programs and layoffs.

Formerly powerful administrators first endured a 7% pay cut and then had to reapply for jobs. Students will have less to sing and dance about as the district decimated arts-related programs. And those sick of body or mind will have fewer nurses and psychologists available to help them.

More pain is on the horizon as officials work to offset an estimated $8-million deficit in the district's $91.2-million budget, said interim State Administrator Stan Oswalt.

The unpopular moves unleashed charges of bad management, unfairness and racism against Oswalt. The 69-year-old retired school superintendent has agreed to run district operations until the state Department of Education selects a long-term administrator.

Oswalt assumed control as a condition for Compton Unified to receive an emergency state loan of $10.5 million. Oswalt has czar-like powers to impose his decisions, but he cannot force people to like them.

The most vocal critic Tuesday was board member Amen Rahh, who accused Oswalt and state and county education officials of racism and greed.

Rahh, who is African-American, said the state intervention is largely an Anglo attempt to exploit the school district's resources.

"We as a people must realize that Gestapo, racist tactics have (long) been employed to take over land and countries," Rahh thundered to a sometimes unruly capacity crowd of about 250 at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Rahh said the school system is being mistreated because most of its employees and nearly all of its students are either African-American or Latino.

He took issue with Oswalt's decision to hire three Anglo consultants to advise the district on financial, hiring and public-relations decisions. Oswalt is also Anglo.

"They do not reflect the community," Rahh said of the consultants. "They do not look like the community. . . . And they don't know nothing about the community."

Oswalt's face reddened, but he did not interrupt Rahh.

"I will hire on the basis of qualifications and experience," Oswalt said firmly after Rahh concluded.

The decision to hire Harvey Grimshaw, a veteran school district financial consultant, drew particular fire. The consultant helped prepare last year's budget, a document that arrived late, full of mistakes and miscalculations.

Oswalt said Grimshaw will develop a plan to obtain the district's share of Compton redevelopment dollars. The investment of $5,000 for Grimshaw's services could potentially bring in millions of dollars, Oswalt said.

Oswalt's decisions have something for everyone to dislike.

For administrators, the displeasure began Tuesday with a pay cut and the loss of 20 management positions. It continued Wednesday and today as administrators attended job interviews before a screening panel. Oswalt revoked the school board's previous administrative assignments.

Administrators expressed concern that Oswalt, after less than a month in the district, knew too little about the district to make the right decisions.

Union representatives objected when Oswald indicated that all employees would have to take salary cuts.

Lower pay for teachers is unacceptable because Compton teachers earned the smallest salaries in the county before recent raises, said Margie Garrett, president of the teachers union.

Teachers have been working without a contract since September. If negotiations fail, Oswalt has the authority to impose salary cuts.

Many of the 69 employees laid off Tuesday were teachers. Ten music teachers, 10 physical education teachers, three art teachers, two business teachers, a drama teacher and a dance teacher lost their jobs.

The cuts also eliminated one of three speech therapists, six of 12 psychologists and six of 14 nurses in the district of about 28,000 students.

Plant workers, secretaries, police officers and others were upset when Oswalt refused to reconsider a June board decision to eliminate more than 100 non-teaching jobs. The school police force will be especially hard hit, losing 16 of 44 officers, said school police Lt. Ken Crawford.

Some district critics hoped that the state takeover would fuel a long-awaited academic turnaround for the school system, which has some of the lowest student achievement scores in the state.

Oswalt conceded that too little of his energy has gone to address student achievement. Estimates of the district deficit have grown from $7 to $8 million and dealing with the immediate money crisis could not be delayed, he said.

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