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Outcry Forces Second Vote on Filling of Vacant School Board Position : Education: Trustees bypassed top-rated candidate, a Latino, in favor of former member convicted of a felony.


The Compton school board, under fire for appointing a new board member in a secret ballot and for bypassing a Latino applicant who was rated as the top candidate, is scheduled to vote again Friday on the appointment.

Board members voted 4 to 2 last week to appoint Saul E. Lankster, 49, the owner of a Compton flower business, to fill a vacant seat. In selecting Lankster, an African American, the board bypassed Martin Chavez, a Port of Los Angeles human resources officer, who received the top rating from a screening committee that evaluated 13 applicants for the position.

Lankster, who served on the board from 1977 to 1981, was convicted in 1985 of felony charges for selling false traffic school diplomas to undercover state investigators. He was sentenced to 120 days in jail and three years probation.

The board scheduled another vote, however, after Jerome Harris, the administrator appointed by the state to run the beleaguered school district, said the board's decision to vote by secret ballot had violated public meeting laws. Lankster attended the meeting Tuesday night but did not take his seat with the board.

The board is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Several speakers also sharply criticized the board for selecting Lankster despite Chavez's top rating. If Lankster is seated, the board will have six African-American members and one Latino. More than half of the district's students are Latino.

"It's time the board stop playing these racist games and hire the best-qualified candidate," businessman Pedro Pallan said.

Activist Melissa Paredes voiced similar feelings.

"We have been trampled on," she said. "We want this school board balanced. We want another Latino on the board."

Assemblyman Willard H. Murray Jr. (D-Paramount) attended the meeting and released a letter to the board that criticized the decision.

"Shame on you for not having the courage and the sense of fairness to do for Latinos what you want white America to do for you," he said in the letter. Murray did not speak at the meeting.

Board member Amen Rahh acknowledged at the meeting that he had voted for Lankster, but denied that the board decision was racist.

President Michael Hopwood said in an earlier interview that he had voted for Lankster.

"He has community support, he was the only candidate who had previous experience and he spoke eloquently on the issues," Hopwood said.

He said that Lankster's application material made no reference to his criminal record.

Board member Sam Littleton challenged charges of racism. "It's never been like that," he said in an interview. "I want the best person to win, and I feel the best person did win."

Toi Jackson, another board member, said the board "chose the best candidate" and insisted she would not change her vote Friday.

Lankster refused to comment.

Lankster and Chavez were among four finalists selected by a community committee that screened the applicants. The others were Otha Ray Scott, a retired high school teacher, and Mae Thomas, a patient resources worker.

Committee member Jean Sanders condemned the board for choosing Lankster over Chavez.

They "have no concept of human rights and dignity," she said. "If a person was chosen as No. 1 by a lot of people, why would (the board) reverse it?"

The new board member will replace Lynn Dymally, who was ousted after not attending a meeting in a year. The new member will serve the remainder of Dymally's term, which expires in November, 1995.

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