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Compton School Board Election Draws 28 Candidates for 5 Seats

Education: The new panel will be the first to be paid and have full control over the district since the state took it over eight years ago.

November 03, 2001|ERIKA HAYASAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Compton voters go to the polls Tuesday, they will encounter an unusually long ballot list: Twenty-eight candidates are running for five seats on the Compton Unified School District board.

The board elected Tuesday will be the first to have full control over the district since it was taken over by the state eight years ago. The election has attracted an abundance of contenders, each hoping to reform the historically flawed district and play a role in its transition back to local control.

"This is the most important election that Compton has ever had," said Tom Hollister, executive director of the Compton Education Assn., the local teachers union. "We know it is time to return to a really good educational program . . . but we're very concerned about who is going to be making the policies in the district. We don't want it to return to what it was 10 years ago."

Although many of those running for office said they were eager to improve the district, several incumbents and education activists said they were concerned about the general lack of experience among the candidates.

"Some of the people who are running, I have never seen at a school board meeting in four years," said Carol Bradley Jordan, 48, who has served on the board since 1997 and is running for reelection. "I would hate to see people who don't really know what is going on start this term, because we need to start off running. We can't be looking around wondering what to do."

The state seized control of Compton schools in 1993 after $20 million was found to be missing from district accounts and test scores plummeted.

Since then, the district has been run by a series of administrators appointed by state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin.

Board members continued to be elected after the state took over, but served only in advisory roles.

In recent years, the district has improved its financial controls and campus maintenance, hired principals and boosted test scores. Last year, the state began restoring power to the district in phases.

In September, Eastin ordered full restoration of local governance effective in December. At that time, Jesse Gonzales, a longtime school superintendent in New Mexico, will take over as the first locally appointed superintendent of the 31,000-student Compton Unified School District since 1993.

The four incumbents up for reelection are Jordan; Saul Lankster, 56; Gorgonio Sanchez Jr., 69; and Bernice Woods.

School board member Basil Kimbrew, 48, also is on the ballot, running for a seat with a four-year term. If elected, his seat--which has two years left on its term--would open up and Kimbrew would spend the next four years in office instead of just two.

"He's creating confusion, because a lot of people didn't realize that his term wasn't up," Hollister said. "If he is elected, then the board will have to decide: 'Are we going to appoint somebody, or are we going to have another very costly election to fill that seat?' "

Kimbrew said the Compton Parents Committee urged him to run for a longer term to continue the work he has been doing in the district.

"This is the first time I as a school board member will have some type of say in power and policy," he said. "I've never had that opportunity."

Kimbrew is one of 21 candidates vying for four seats with four-year terms. Seven candidates are running for a two-year unexpired term left by Leslie Irving, who was elected to the Compton City Council in June.

Other candidates include three engineers, a college student, a sales supervisor, a retired associate superintendent, a retired postmaster, two social workers, a college student, several retired and current teachers and a contract recruiter.

Hollister's union is endorsing incumbents Woods and Sanchez, parent Barbara Jean Calhoun, 51, and retired teacher Marjorie Shipp, 62, for the four-year seats; and Alma Contreras, a 31-year-old social worker, for the two-year seat.

Sanchez, who was elected to the board in 1993 after the state took over, said the large pool of candidates may have been attracted by the stipend that comes with the job. This is the first board that will be paid--$750 a month each--since the state seizure.

Hollister said he hopes that whoever is elected will support the new superintendent. Gonzales, who is bilingual and served as superintendent of schools in Las Cruces, N.M., since 1989, has been praised for fighting gang activity and helping students improve their performance and prepare for careers.

"If we don't have a strong majority behind the new superintendent, I can't imagine that he would stay more than a couple of years," Hollister said. "If we run him out, how are we going to attract someone else of quality?"

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