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6 Compton School Officials Were Improperly Demoted, Judge Finds : Courts: Ruling provides for reinstatement and back pay. It could expose district to legal action from others.

October 13, 1994|PSYCHE PASCUAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Superior Court judge has ruled that a state-appointed administrator overseeing Compton public schools improperly demoted six district officials last year.

Judge Diane Wayne ruled that the officials, including a personnel director and the public information officer, are entitled to return to their old jobs and receive back pay because the administrator failed to give them adequate notification.

George W. Shaeffer, an attorney for the managers, said the state administrator was required under state law to give the managers notice of their job changes by July 1. Instead, some managers were demoted a couple of weeks before school started in September.

Some managers said they felt they had been treated unfairly.

"I was shocked and very hurt. . . . I was wronged," said Naomi Rainey, who was demoted from public information officer to a teaching position. Rainey, who worked 18 years in the district, resigned to take a teaching job in Long Beach public schools. Rainey said she has not decided whether to return to her former job.

School officials said they will decide by Nov. 3 whether to appeal the ruling.

The school district's attorney, Melanie E. Lomax, said officials are also trying to determine how much the ruling could cost.

In addition to at least $50,000 in back pay, the decision could expose the district to legal action from other administrators who were reassigned last year but did not join in the lawsuit, she said.

After the ruling was issued last week, three other demoted employees demanded their old jobs back, said state-appointed Administrator J. Jerome Harris. He said the ruling could stymie recovery efforts of the financially troubled Compton school system.

"It's unreasonable, considering the mandate the state was given by the Legislature," he said. "It could throw a monkey wrench into our efforts to get back into fiscal compliance."

The state took over the beleaguered district in July, 1993, and appointed Stanley G. Oswalt as an interim administrator to restore the district's financial health and improve academic programs. Oswalt, who demoted several employees, remained as administrator until Harris was appointed in February.

Three of the demoted employees who filed suit have left the district. In addition to Rainey, they are Clarence W. Hampton, a former human resources director, and Versie G. Burns, a former assistant director of personnel services. Three others involved in the suit, Ursula Omeze, Maple Cornwell and Oliver Miller, still work in the district.

Compton school officials had argued that Oswalt, as state administrator, had the authority to demote top-level employees. The district also contended that the personnel moves were among several emergency steps taken to cut costs.

Non-teaching workers were laid off. Managers and teachers took pay cuts.

"The deficit was getting worse. . . . It's kind of like the triage (unit) in the hospital. You go into a place and treat the most serious part of the injury," Harris said.

The district is considering pushing for state legislation that would allow a state-appointed administrator the latitude to reassign managers without facing a lawsuit, Lomax said.

"The law appears to be very inconsistent," Lomax said. "Is the (administrator's) primary responsibility to make fiscal cuts or maintain the status quo? That's where the rubber meets the road."

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