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Judge Rejects Compton Board's Bid to Regain Control of Schools

Education: Delays in turning around district are a concern but state has not abused its power, jurist rules.

March 01, 1997|MATEA GOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the state should keep the reins of the beleaguered Compton Unified School District after school board trustees sued to wrest back local control.

The state bailed out the financially strapped school district in 1993, and since then a Department of Education appointee has run the day-to-day operations while the seven-member school board has functioned as an advisory panel.

After a four-day hearing, Superior Court Judge David Workman said it is "a matter of concern" that the state has not made more progress in improving the schools, but that state Supt. Delaine Eastin did not abuse her discretion in retaining control of the district.

"We're obviously very happy that the judge recognized the hard work involved in turning the district around," said Richard Whitmore, the state's chief deputy superintendent, in an interview Friday.

L'Tanya Butler, attorney for the school board, said late Friday that she was disappointed with the ruling and that she will talk to her clients about whether they plan to appeal.

"I know that if the situation in the district does not improve, there will be another lawsuit, and hopefully a more successful one," Butler said.

State officials said improving the debt-ridden district has taken time because of difficulty in building consensus with the local school board.

"Our basic argument was always that there's been improvements, but there haven't been enough," Whitmore said. "Because the Legislature mandated we improve student achievement in that district, until we see significant improvement, we don't think it's fair to the kids to turn the district back. Until we see a school board that's ready to collaborate, we don't believe it's ready to turn back to local governance."

School trustees say the district was unconstitutionally seized and that the state did not develop reasonable guidelines for the 28,000-student school system to be returned to local control. The state has also come under fire for the district's deteriorating school facilities and low student test scores.

"It is everyone's hope that the state will show the commitment that everyone is doubting the board has, because it is just utterly unbelievable that they could have run this school system for 3 1/2 years and these conditions that are a threat to the health and safety of the children still exist," Butler said.

Butler said the district was not able to make its case because state employees who testified were afraid to strongly criticize the department.

"If they had stated plainly and succinctly that the state had been totally disregarding the needs of the district . . . then they probably would not have been employable in the state of California," Butler said.

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