In yet another blow to Compton's troubled school system, its two top education officials abruptly announced their departures Wednesday, leaving the 28,000-student district without a permanent leader.
Amid an ongoing districtwide shake-up, Dhyan Lal, the district's state-appointed administrator, and Supt. Harold Cebrun said they were quitting.
Placed in state receivership three years ago after sliding $20 million into debt and posting low test scores, the school district has shown some signs of regaining financial stability but little academic improvement. After three years of state control, the school board, stripped of its power, has demanded the return of its authority.
Lal, the district's third state-appointed administrator since 1993, held the job only four months. He replaced J. Jerome Harris, a seasoned educator who was widely criticized by teachers and administrators, many of whom found him difficult and ineffective.
With Lal's departure, State Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin named one of her deputies, Richard Whitmore, to serve as interim administrator while he and other state officials conduct a nationwide search for a longer-term replacement.
Assemblyman Willard H. Murray Jr. (D-Paramount), author of the legislation that allowed Sacramento to take the reins of the Compton schools, said he had become increasingly dissatisfied with Lal's performance and felt he was emphasizing public relations "at the expense of instruction."
Murray said he voiced his concerns about the district's continuing troubles to Eastin a half-dozen times in the last month or so.
"I think the district was heading in the right direction with Jerome Harris," Murray said. "It would appear that direction changed."
Lal and Cebrun declined comment through a district spokeswoman.
Cebrun had served as acting superintendent since December 1992 and as permanent superintendent since March 1994. Cebrun, who makes $109,446 annually, will be on a paid leave of absence for one year, and his resignation is effective next July, a district spokeswoman said. He was named last week to the executive committee of the California Interscholastic Federation, which promotes school sports.
In a statement, Cebrun said he was resigning because "the formidable challenges which confront the district have made it difficult for a school district superintendent to act concurrently with a state administrator."
Whitmore, the state's acting administrator, said the swift resignations of Lal and Cebrun were voluntary.
"I think Dhyan felt like he came into the district and got a lot accomplished," Whitmore said.
Meanwhile, state officials have presided over a shake-up in the district's central offices in the last several weeks. At least a dozen administrators have been demoted and asked to return to the classroom.
Teachers and parents reacted with shock to Lal's departure.
"There was a place we could see he was moving toward," said Principal Mattye Goins, a teacher and administrator in the district for 33 years. "With more time, it would've become a reality. These problems didn't come overnight and naturally the solution will not come overnight."
Tony Hicks, a parent with two daughters and a son in the district's elementary and high schools, said Lal "built our confidence that we could do it. . . . He was a good motivator. I'm really disappointed."