Gov. Pete Wilson has signed a bill that would authorize the state to run the Compton Unified School District until its academic programs improve.
The legislation makes the Compton school system the first in California to operate under state control for academic reasons. The bill will have little immediate impact, however, because state officials are already managing the financially struggling school system as a condition of an emergency $10.5-million loan.
The governor's decision angered some Compton officials but delighted Assemblyman Willard H. Murray Jr. (D-Paramount), who authored the legislation and announced the signing Thursday.
"Now the district is required by law to improve student performance," said Murray, who represents parts of Compton and has complained that the district produces some of the worst student test scores in the state. "It is no longer optional."
Wilson vetoed similar legislation last year, saying that local governments deserved to control their own affairs. But he cautioned that he would reconsider if the district failed to improve.
"He warned them if they didn't shape up, he'd sign the bill," said Joe Holsinger, deputy superintendent for the state Department of Education. "And they didn't, so he signed the bill. This legislation is a first of its kind."
Advisers to the governor, however, downplayed the bill's significance. Wilson's intention was mainly to make sure that academic reforms proposed for Compton went forward, said Maureen DiMarco, secretary for the Office of Child Development and Education. Other school systems that fall under state control also must improve academic programs as needed, she said.
The bill states that the district will regain local control when it has repaid state loans, is fiscally solvent and has "made demonstrated academic progress"--but does not specify what constitutes acceptable student achievement.
Compton school board member Amen Rahh complained that the bill tightens the state's grip on a school system.
"All this is to make sure the African-American and Latino communities will never be in control of their community politically. It's about race, politics and land. Pete Wilson doesn't give a damn if an African-American can spell governor," Rahh said.
Compton's state-appointed administrator, Stanley G. Oswalt, took no position on Murray's bill. Oswalt said he is more concerned with a bill on Wilson's desk to give Compton Unified another $9.4-million loan.
"Call me if the governor signs the other bill," Oswalt said. "That I would certainly like to know. We've got to have it."