When Randolph Ward arrives at his job running the Compton schools, he comes with a bodyguard who picks him up every morning and drives him home at night.
The bodyguard, a beefy man from a special California Highway Patrol division in charge of protecting state officials, sits patiently outside Ward's modest office and accompanies him on all school business.
Ward's need for protection is stark evidence of the raw emotions laid bare in Compton over who should be in charge of the city's beleaguered schools.
The bodyguard is also an indication of just how divisive politics can be in Compton--a climate at least partially responsible for the defeat Tuesday of a school bond issue.
The state took over Compton's schools five years ago after the district fell $20 million into debt and sought another state bailout.
State officials agreed to the loan, but only if local officials--who had driven the district into near bankruptcy while student performance sank to abysmal depths--were stripped of all power.
In Compton, students were attending classes in decrepit buildings with leaky roofs. Some buildings had boarded-up windows and bathrooms where sewage backed up and urinals had been torn off the walls. The average school in Compton is more than 50 years old.
In September, the district allocated $8.7 million for emergency repairs, but the list of work that is needed adds up to $140 million. That's a large amount for a district with an annual budget of $150 million for 29,400 students.
To pay for the repairs, the district asked Compton voters Tuesday to approve the first school bond measure in nearly 30 years. Measure A would have generated $107 million for projects at 34 of the district's 38 schools. But the bond, which needed two-thirds of the vote to pass, got only 55% approval.
Its failure underlines the deep fissures running through this town over local control of the troubled school district. Many residents feel insulted that the state has repeatedly said locally elected school board officials are not competent to run the district.
State officials have won few friends by noting that before the state seized control, the school district was part of a lucrative fiefdom controlled by local politicians and district employees. Officials of the district, the largest employer in Compton, handed out jobs and contracts to friends and relatives and loyal political supporters, state officials say.
Angry opponents of Tuesday's bond issue argued that they were being asked to approve funds to be spent by a state-appointed school administrator--a man they painted as having dictatorial powers over the seven-member advisory school board.
Ward countered he would appoint a citizen advisory committee to oversee the spending, but that promise did not satisfy enough voters.
Supporters of the bond issue "underestimated the intelligence of the community," said an indignant Melvin Stokes, who campaigned door-to-door against the measure on election eve. "The people could not stand another tax increase."
Compton Mayor Omar Bradley used the bond issue to hammer home his point that local control was the only way to go for Compton's schools.
The bond proponents were painted as sophisticated carpetbaggers who spent more than $47,000 to pass the measure. Bradley and his followers said they spent nothing but telephone time, shoe leather and $40 on 1,500 fliers.
"This school bond is being supported by people in the district who don't even live in Compton," Bradley said, noting that Ward lives in Long Beach. "They wanted to increase our taxes and give them to a man who has no connectedness to the city and who could do whatever he chose. We would have had no redress on the matter."
Bradley, never a man to hide his emotions, was so jubilant over the defeat of the bond that he stopped by the campaign headquarters for bond supporters after midnight Wednesday. Standing just outside the front door, he pointed to his watch and said: "Your time is up."
The mayor has vowed to mount a recall campaign against the four school board members who supported the measure.
The bond's proponents, encouraged by the 55% approval vote, said they will learn from their mistakes and put another bond measure on the November ballot.
When the state selected Ward to rescue Compton's schools, he knew that somehow he would have to develop ways of keeping a hostile cadre of local elected officials at bay. The rescue is a long way from complete, and the local officials are as hostile as ever.
Some residents complain that the state has had ample time to correct the financial and academic woes that made Compton's schools among the worst in the state.
But nothing has changed, they say, arguing that the schools are even worse.
Compton students continue to have some of the worst SAT scores in the state, and those scores have slipped consistently over the last five years.
The district still owes the state $16 million, and the dropout rate has doubled in recent years.