Oakland schools chief Richard P. Mesa, recently appointed by state education officials to take over the troubled Compton Unified School District, announced Tuesday night that he has turned down the job and will remain in Oakland.
Mesa's decision came after two days of closed-door meetings with board members of the Oakland Unified School District. He has served as superintendent of the district since 1990.
The seven-member board announced Tuesday that it unanimously passed a resolution asking Mesa to remain. Mesa agreed to remain in Oakland under his existing $115,000-a-year contract, which has 1 1/2 years remaining, officials said.
"We are very relieved," Oakland school board member Jean Quan said. "We've come a long way and we think we are on the verge of doing some good things. Mr. Mesa has a lot of integrity and educational vision, and he's able to bring in good people."
Mesa, who made the announcement in Oakland, was unavailable for comment.
On Friday, acting state schools Supt. William D. Dawson announced that he had chosen Mesa from among three finalists for the Compton job. Mesa said then that he looked forward to turning things around in the financially strapped school system, which also has some of the worst student test scores in California.
The remaining finalists who emerged from a screening panel for the Compton job are both former school system superintendents. McKinley M. Nash served as superintendent in the Centinela Valley Union High School District in Lawndale. He is currently an executive with the Assn. of California School Administrators.
The other finalist, Fernando R. Elizondo, is an education consultant who formerly headed the El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera. The decision again will fall to Dawson, who is not bound to choose either finalist.
Mesa, 63, took the helm of the Oakland school system when it was plagued by instability, unrest and budget problems. Before his arrival, the district had six superintendents and three teachers strikes in 10 years, officials said.
"There is something to be said for stability," said Ward Rountree, executive director of the Oakland Education Assn.
Supporters said Mesa brought the school system back from the brink of insolvency. The district has slashed about $40 million from its $160-million budget during Mesa's tenure without layoffs.
Officials also credit Mesa for installing programs that hold the promise of increased student achievement, although lagging test scores have yet to rise.
These accomplishments made Mesa a top contender to take over Compton Unified, which came under state control after a $10.5-million emergency state loan.
"It was hard for Mr. Mesa to change his mind because he made the commitment to Compton," Oakland board member Quan said. "But we are a moral imperative with him too. We have 52,000 students in a district that had a lot of problems."