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Schools Chief Reconsiders Plan to Sell District Land : Education: State-appointed Administrator Stanley G. Oswalt's proposal to use proceeds from the sale or lease of three properties to refurbish existing facilities is strongly criticized.

September 02, 1993|HOWARD BLUME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COMPTON — The acting Compton schools chief will reconsider a plan to raise money by selling or leasing school district property after blistering criticism of the proposal.

State-appointed Administrator Stanley G. Oswalt had proposed using the revenue from three sites to refurbish schools damaged by age, lack of maintenance and vandalism.

Oswalt postponed making a decision about the properties after critics accused him of plotting to strip the Compton Unified School District of its assets. Oswalt denied the allegations and insisted that he will pursue the strategy after setting up an advisory committee of staff and community members.

He said the proposal would help restore financial stability and improve academic achievement and service to students in the Compton Unified School District.

"It is my hope that certain surplus district property can be leased and the income from the property used to update, repair and generally improve the schools," Oswalt said. "We all know that there are millions of dollars of capital improvements that need to be made at most of the district schools, which are, in most cases, over 30 years old. Roofs, asphalt, painting, obsolete equipment, plumbing--the list of capital improvement needs is phenomenal."

Parents and staff members have long criticized deteriorating district schools. Run-down conditions at Whaley Middle School, including fire-damaged classrooms, graffiti-scarred bathrooms and filthy locker rooms, helped spark student protests last spring.

To critics, however, the development proposal is the realization of their direst predictions. An information sheet distributed by local activists accused Oswalt and officials from the county and state of stripping the school system of its resources.

"The Compton Unified School District has large parcels of land," states the flyer from the Compton Citizen's Power Action Committee, a new group that is critical of the state takeover. "The land is valuable and the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the California Department of Education want to take the land."

The state Department of Education assumed control of the school system in July as a condition of a $10.5-million emergency state loan. State officials asked Oswalt, a retired superintendent, to manage the school system until they choose a long-term administrator.

The controversy surfaced Tuesday over Oswalt's proposal to adopt the recommendations of an earlier advisory committee composed of parents, community members, teachers and administrators.

In 1991, this committee recommended redeveloping three sites: a 21-acre parcel at Central Avenue and Greenleaf Boulevard, a former elementary school at 1420 N. McKinley Ave., and a former administrative office at 118th Street and Compton Avenue.

The 21-acre parcel is vacant. The property was part of a larger plot intended at various times for a new high school and a central kitchen, officials said. District enrollment declined, eliminating the need for a high school, and other plans fell through. The district previously sold part of the land.

The 6.9-acre McKinley site housed a visual and performing arts program in recent years. Budget cuts have virtually eliminated that program. This fall, the alternative high school will operate some classes out of the building. The alternative school is for students who dislike a traditional high school or who have attendance or behavior problems.

The other location of the alternative school is the 11-acre site at 118th Street. The district would relocate all the programs.

The 118th Street site is next to a hospital and could likely be sold or leased to the hospital or a medical group, Oswalt said. An incineration company is among firms that have expressed interest in the 21-acre site.

"I have millions of dollars in building repairs that need to be made, and I believe vacant property should not sit there," Oswalt said.

Oswalt postponed a decision on the three properties after board President Kelvin D. Filer suggested a more complete study that included ample opportunity for community response. The school board never considered the matter in public, Filer said.

Oswalt said he also wants to examine consolidating schools. Closing a school would save at least $150,000 a year, Oswalt said. The district could accommodate about 8,000 more students with its current classroom space, he added.

Distrust of Oswalt's motives runs deep, however, among numerous community members, including Ernest Smith, an area physician and longtime school volunteer. Smith said recently that he viewed the state intervention as an ugly replay of attempts to deprive African-Americans of land and rights.

Most of the school system's employees are African-American. Dozens have lost jobs because of austerity measures imposed by Oswalt. The student population was once almost all African-American and today is about 57% Latino, 41% African-American and 2% other ethnicities.

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