Gross Mismanagement of Compton Unified Continues Under State Sanction

Read the Open Letter to Compton Unified below. This page is a compiliation of articles detailing the gross mismanagement endemic in Compton Unified. The children deserve better than this.
Byline: Alan Bonsteel and Carlos A. Bonilla
The California Department of Education took over the Compton Unified School District in 1993 because of mismanagement and bankruptcy. That was the same year that Proposition 174, the initiative for school choice, was defeated. With great fanfare, the department announced that the Compton district would become a model for successful new programs in inner-city education.
Sunday, November 29, 1998 Home Edition Section: Opinion Piece ID: 0980109032 Words: 419 Alan Bonsteel and Carlos A. Bonilla are coauthors of "A Choice for Our Children: Curing the Crisis in America's Schools" (Institute for Contemporary Studies, Oakland, 1997) (sorry--article to come)

Compton Schools and Vouchers

Alan Bonsteel and Carlos A. Bonilla's case for vouchers based on the lawsuits filed against the Compton Unified School District (Commentary, Nov. 29) is unfair and counterproductive to the efforts of the administrators, teachers, staff, parents and students in this district who are working together to provide a comprehensive quality education for all students.
We assure you that the Compton Unified School District has turned the corner in its recovery from years of fiscal and academic mismanagement. Student scores on standardized tests are on the rise, thanks to the dedication and innovation of teachers like Jonathan Klein, a Yale graduate and one of the 300 Teach for America instructors in the district*. Klein's fifth-grade class at Tibby Elementary recently involved the entire school in a mock election using computers to research the qualifications of candidates for office.
Next month, Compton High School's newly refurbished administration building will open, adding 18 classrooms and 30,000 square feet of future classroom space, giving students an 1,800-seat auditorium and a library with state-of-the-art computers. The $3.5-million project** is a major advancement in a long-range facilities modernization program. The Compton district is committed to providing every child and adult in the community with access to a quality education with or without vouchers.
--RANDOLPH E. WARD (state superintendent for Compton Unified)
Saturday, December 12, 1998, Los Angeles Times, Metro, B7

**yet the school yards are covered in dead grass sprouting from cracked earth and bungalows list off their foundations, but hey, we have new recreational meeting facilities and a refurbished administration building.

Compton Unified-ACLU News, 16 December 1997:

"We are pleased that Delaine Eastin, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Dr. Randolph Ward, State Administrator for Compton Unified School District, have taken bold action to improve the quality of education for all children in Compton," said Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director for the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.
Specifically, the agreement requires that a certified teacher will be present in every classroom on every school day and that any teacher hired after the agreement will be employed for no more than two years without passing the California Basic Educational Skills Test.
The open letter--and Delaine Eastin's and Randolph Ward's shufflingly lame responses--is below. This is a recounting of one of the most bizarre exchanges I've ever encountered. In short, as a credentialed teacher, I offered to substitute, but the personnel clerks had "some concerns," and, in spite of this letter being sent to their superintendent, did not place me even on the substitute list. I dared to mention the blight of Lincoln Elementary School campus, with concern, mind you, not disdain. What a trouble maker! How was I to know that this new administration building was being the recipient of the much needed funds and I had unwittingly touched on guilty consciences! I was trying to be real, which is probably my least endearing quality when it comes to bureaucrats, especially those who throw public funds around building a "showpiece" administration and computer center.
Is it any wonder the city is suing them--Delaine and Randy--to get control back into local hands?
...and here it is, at last, the open letter and details of the bizarre exchange:

15 September 1998

Dear Ms. Eastin:

I am writing to notify you about abuses of "personnel procedures" in Compton Unified, to which I have been recently subjected, and about the prejudicial overtones in my dealings with two of the people in positions of responsibility there. In short, I was interviewed and approved for full time certificated employment on their July 16 Teacher Interview Day. I am fully credentialled and hold an LDS/CLAD certificate. I did not go to site interviews at that time, as I would not be available until after 10 September. I recently called the personnel office in response to their advertisement for full-time and substitute teachers to ask to be placed on the substitute list. I have not yet been placed on that list, due to what seem to be personal problems of William Aguilla and C. Kevin Hanks, in spite of calling 5 times. The last time, 3 September, Kevin Hanks was to have his office call me after 10 September for an appointment. It is now 14 September. I wrote this letter 11 September and allowed him ample time to follow through on, what I should add, is a punitive second interview. Please read on, and read carefully. It is long, but I think you need to know, clearly, what is going on (as usual) there.
I understand that two of the five conditions under which the local school board is to regain control are improvement of personnel procedures and the hiring of fully certified teachers. In both of these, the personnel office is engaged in obstructionist behavior, to put it mildly. To put it realistically, it is absurd behavior.
On Thursday 27 August, I called Compton Unified in response to their advertisement for both regular and substitute teachers. I had gone to the job fair/interview on 16 July and been approved for employment as a teacher. As I would not be available until after 10 September, I agreed to call after 1 October when they do their "numbers," rather than go out on site to talk with the individual principals (who were to have been on site that day but were at a principals' orientation instead and would be back on site the following Monday). I drove around the district that afternoon, looking at schools that were hiring and familiarizing myself with the physical aspects of the district. The south end of town was lovely and I commented to friends that it had "to be one of the best-kept secrets in the Los Angeles area," in several communications. I commented also that it was most unfortunate that--because interviews were being conducted that day and people were checking out the district and the area, as I was--that was the day that a murder occurred on the Central Avenue on-ramp to the 105 freeway. While checking out, out of curiosity and on my way home, the northernmost schools, I was shocked at the condition of the field of one school. "Blighted" was the only description for it. I felt for the children having to attend school in such desolation. Leaving there, I ran into police tape and the coroner's van under the 105 freeway as I drove along Central Avenue on my way home. How very unfortunate for the district, in receivership and trying to make a comeback, to have this either welcome or bid goodbye to the applicants! Reading the paper the next day, it turned out that the murder had been committed by a juvenile, on a bicycle, from the projects.
In the meantime, I decided that I would prefer substituting locally to working full-time right now, so when I saw that Compton was advertising for substitutes, I thought this would be a quick and easy start, since my paperwork had already been cleared.
Oh, let me go back even further. The initial advertising for the job fair gave no phone number, only the district address, so I drove out to pick up the application materials the day before the interviews, scheduled in groups by last name. I was surprised to automatically receive the worksheets for class units for emergency credentialling. I hold both a lifetime secondary, a clear multiple subject, and an LDS certificate, which was much appreciated at the interview.
However, in my calling the personnel office regarding substituting, my credentialling apparently automatically made me suspect.

Back to 27 August. I called the numbers and extensions listed in the LA Times advertisement. One of the people was out that day and someone else was manning her desk. I told her that I was calling in response to the advertisement and that I had already interviewed, during the summer, at the job fair, and been approved for employment. "Classified or certificated?"
"Did you apply for a substitute job?"
"No, I applied as a full-time teacher and was approved for that, but I didn't go out on the site interviews as I'm not available until after September 10th."
"Well, did you fill out an application?"
It went on like this, with my explaining that my paperwork was all in order and on file at the office and so on, until I finally said, "Well did you know that you were advertising for substitutes this last weekend?"
Suddenly she said, "Wait, I'll transfer you."
She transferred me to a man who didn't seem to know anything about it, so I asked for the other woman whose name had been listed in the advertisement. He transferred me there and I told her of my interest in substituting and that I had been approved for employment as a teacher and so on and she said, "Oh, that was William that transferred you here. You were talking to the right person. I'll see if I can transfer you back." The transfer was not successful and I listened to my oven timer calling me for some time before I hung up and went on about my business at home. I called back at 11:30 and got no answer from the desk.
`The following Tuesday, 31 August, I gave it another try. William was "out to lunch" at 1:30, so I left a message with the secretary and asked her to have him call me, telling my whole story again and requesting that she get my paperwork from the file for him and add me to the substitute list.
By the following Thursday, 2 September, I had had no call. I called again, thinking, "This is an awful lot of trouble to go through for a substitute job in a district that is not among the most desirable places to work. What am I doing this for?"
I got a hold of William on the phone, requesting from him his last name and the spelling (as it sounded something like William O'William the way it was pronounced): Aguilla.
I told him my whole story again and he said, "Yes?" I repeated that I was calling in response to their need for substitute teachers.
"Yes?" he said, again.
I was at a loss for words by this point. I explained the entire story once again, reminding him that I was already in their files and already approved for employment.
He said, "What do you mean "‘approved?'"
"Well, I came to the job fair and interviewed and was accepted and have delayed a specific assignment as I wasn't available until after the 10th."
"We had a job fair in May," he said.
"Well, I came to one and interviewed this summer."
"At (such and such) Middle School? That was in May."
"No. At the district office. This summer. It was a very hot day. I was there. I know."
"In the board room?"
"Yes. In the board room; with a lot of people; by the alphabet."
"Well, who interviewed you?"
"I don't know right now. I didn't get all my records out for this call. I'm just trying to respond to the advertisement and see what I need to do to get on the list for substitutes. All my paperwork is on file in your office [and you've had two days to find it and didn't bother to return my call--I didn't add], and I've been approved for full-time teaching there."
"What do you mean by ‘approved?'" he asked.
"Well, I interviewed and was approved. Why don't you tell me what ‘approved' means to you and I'll see if I can help you out here."
"No, I'll help you."
"O.K. You do that." I went through the story one more time, adding "I was interviewed. All my paperwork is fine. It's all on file in your office. I was approved for a certificated, full-time position, but I couldn't commit myself to one at the time, and now I think I'd prefer to substitute."
"Did you want a full-time job?"
"No. I'm just trying to get on the sub list. I've decided since the interview that I'd prefer to substitute because it fits my schedule better right now. I thought I'd try substituting and see how I liked it, and right now I'm not very impressed [after all the folderol I've gone through today in what should be a simple matter]. As a matter of fact, I wasn't very impressed when I was out there after I left the district office--where everyone I met [at that time] was very nice--and ran into the coroner's van and a dead body on the freeway on ramp."
"What city was that?" he asked. I nearly screamed in frustration. How could the district office be unaware of that most unfortunate occurrence on the day they were trying to recruit teachers?
"Compton," I said, totally exasperated at this point.
"Oh, no," he said, "that was Los Angeles."
Now why had he asked me what city it was if he knew? I said, "Well, I don't know. I was driving around looking at schools in Compton Unified and touring the blighted schools on that end of town. I don't know what city I was in. It was Compton Unified."
"Well, what school was it?" he asked.
How did I get sucked into this bizarre and nonsensical interchange? All I did was call to put my name on a sub list. It should have been a simple matter. I hadn't taken out all my papers from that day. They have records there. "I don't know. How about Lincoln? Does that ring a bell?" I remembered looking at Kennedy in the south end--a lovely little school--and Lincoln in the north, off the top of my head.
"Oh, that's not one of our schools."
"What? Why would I have gone there if it weren't. I was driving around looking at a lot of schools on the Compton Unified District map."
"Well, we take care of some of those schools."
I decided that William was not going to be of any help at all. He'd been totally side tracked. He didn't even know what schools were in the district. He was motivated by personal defensiveness. With a Hispanic last name, he was denying any connection with the black end of town. I made my goodbyes and decided to find someone else's name in my paperwork.
I waited a while and then called the office of the person whose name was signed to my "approval" letter: C. Kevin Hanks. He was out, in a meeting. I spoke to his secretary, telling her that I was trying to put my name on the sub list and for some reason, it was becoming a difficult process. I told her of the ridiculous conversation I had had with William and that I would like to speak to Hanks, blowing off steam and getting a laugh out of it. Feeling much better after talking to someone with a level head, I said I'd call Hanks after Labor Day, as he wasn't going to be back in the office until then.
Hanks called and left a message at 4:30 that afternoon, "regarding your call complaining about William." It didn't bode well. Again, the main point had been lost in the personal concerns of those working in the district office. He said he'd be in the next day, Friday.
I called him early Friday morning, 3 September. I identified myself and said, "I'm returning your call from yesterday afternoon."
He said, "No, I was returning your call."
"Oh, well, O.K. I'm calling again, then. First of all, let me make sure that I clarify what the reason I'm calling is. I saw your ad for substitute teachers a couple of weekends ago now, and have called several times to add my name to the substitute list. As my paperwork has all been approved, for regular, full-time teaching, it should be a simple matter to do that. Would you please add my name to the list?"
He said he would.
Then I began to tell him of my conversation with William. I told him that I had gone to the interviews and had been very impressed by the professionalism of both the people I interviewed with and the other people who were being interviewed. I told him that I knew that a number of innovative and interesting programs were going on in Compton. All of this was true.
I asked him, "Before we go any further, one thing I wanted to ask, in my initial call [over a week before] in response to the ad was if the district allowed substitutes to choose the areas or the schools they preferred," (as LA Unified has a "three no's" policy against it).
He said that yes, they did. If a substitute didn't like a particular school or principal or whatever, they had a choice.
I thanked him and apologized and said I didn't want to sound "choosy," but that I thought I would be more comfortable in the Spanish-speaking end of town, as I speak Spanish and am nearly done with my BCLAD.
A red flag went up. I'm credentialled and applying as a substitute, in Compton? What could be wrong with me? "Are you working now?" he asked.
"Well, yes, I'm finishing up a term at the extension of a Japanese University September 10, and I work there twice a year and I think substituting would help me maintain that schedule."
Uh-oh, another red flag. Japanese students. University. I must be "too good" for Compton.
I added, "I just finished a year in Westminster," uh-oh, another red flag. Orange County. White people. Conservatives. I could hear all the red flags in his "oh"s or small sounds, "and am living in L.A. right now and the drive's too far, so I've been looking around the area."
He agreed to put me on the substitute list. [However, he did not do on.]
I went back to the problematical conversation I'd had with William. I recounted it. I said too much. I wanted to be fair to William, so I told Hanks what I had said after he got me flustered and impatient. I said that William had gotten me so frustrated and worked up that I said to him, "...and I'm not very impressed right now," telling him about slapping William with the unfortunate incident at Central and the 105, at which point William denied any connection with Los Angeles, and furthermore denied that Lincoln was in Compton Unified (it is in Compton Unified), and mentioned calling the schools on the north end of town "blighted."
Now then, Hanks is, from his voice, African American. That's "his" end of town and he's defensive about that. He said to me. "Oh, I think I remember you. Did I interview you?"

"No," I said.
"Yes," he said. "Aren't you the one whose husband didn't want her to work here because he was worried that it was too dangerous?"
"No," I said. "My husband's African-American. I don't think we met. I was interviewed by Nicole."
"Well, now I want you to come in to have another interview," he said. "I have some concerns that you don't know what you're getting into."
"Oh [honey] I know exactly what I'm getting into. I worked at Hawthorne and Leuzinger High Schools [I even substituted Woodshop at Leuzinger; I worked through the student riots and walkouts over Ken Crowe; I was appalled by the racial factions stirred up in the faculty and the board vs. the superintendent, McKinley Nash; I worked at MacArthur park in Long Beach, where even a baby was pulled by his arm from a crib and shot, and this was 20 years ago. Oh, honey, do I ever know what I'm getting into--but I sound young and my voice says "Manhattan Beach" all over it, although I lived in Taiwan for ten years; although I'm a member of the National Hispanic Honor Society....No sense in explaining myself further when already mired in the tarpits of his emotional instabilities and insecurities, though, eh?]."
"Well, I still have some concerns that you don't know what you're getting into and I want to interview you myself. I'll have my secretary call you for an appointment after the 10th." I'm neither holding my breath nor running to the phone to answer it.
"Well, if that's what you want to do. It seems like a lot of trouble just to substitute, especially when I've already been accepted for employment, and I thought you'd be more than happy to have a substitute ready to go, but I'll be happy to come in and talk to you. [pat me on the back for not choking on the words]. Please have a look at my résumé [you've had ample time to find it] first. I'm really just trying to help out."
I haven't heard from them yet.

Don't take any excuses about how they are having trouble finding credentialled people who are willing to come work in Compton. I was even willing to go work there as a substitute.
I've been trying to find out the status of these two jokers--if they are under the auspices of the state or are some of the district people who remain there after the shakeup.
I understand that Schromm and Associates are in charge of auditing the personnel office. Should I send them a copy of this letter, and what is their address? I understand also that Randolph Ward is the State Superintendent for Compton, and should I send him a copy and what is his address?

The purpose of this letter is not to secure a job in Compton (although if I could attach myself to Sacramento in some capacity and be of service, I'd be happy to), it is to notify you of what is going on there because I care about education, believe in education, and feel that the students of the state deserve better than what they've been getting once it filters down through all of the district fieifdoms.

So that's what happens to someone with a simple offer to the personnel office.

It's clear that, on reflection, we have here a black man and a hispanic man both defensive of "their" ethnic ends of town and bearing hostility or ill-will toward the other end of town, and neither of whom, by extension, likes each other, and both of whom bear prejudice against "white people."
I considered having my mother-in-law call and say she was I, to see if the reaction to her phone voice would be more gracious than the reaction to mine was.
As I said, the people doing the interviewing in the board room were efficient, pleasant, and professional. It was a record-breaker heat, and all of us--interviewers and interviewees--were dressed in suits, nylons, high heels. The interviewers had a lot of people to process and did it smoothly and professionally, softly and kindly, in spite of the heat and the numbers of people they had to see. Their hard work and good will, however, is diminished by people like William and Hanks who needed only to say, "Oh, O.K. Let me get your file," look at whatever notes are there, and carry on. As it is, I can't imagine working in a district that treats a guest--which is what a caller is--the way they treated me, with hostility, suspicion, and, for lack of a better word, phobia.

Sorry for the length of the letter, but the length of these phone calls, which went absolutely nowhere in ever-widening spirals of the absurd--Had I stepped into an Edward Albee play, was I waiting for Godot?--necessitate a full accounting.

Please reread this carefully so that you do not miss the intent of my letter. I believe the students of California deserve far better than most of their districts allow them.

Are you looking for anyone committed to upholding state educational standards to take a district position there? Perhaps I could be of use.
Thank you for your attention.


Alison McMahon Johnson

cc: Schromm and Associates, personnel auditors
Randolph Ward, Compton Unified State Superintendent
Sandra Feldman, President AFT
Omar Bradley, Compton City Mayor

Compton Schools Get D in Progress

Despite improvements, district is a long way from regaining autonomy, audit says, and most goals remain unfulfilled.
By AMY PYLE, Times Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO--The very progress report that Assemblyman Carl Washington hoped would speed Compton Unified School District's return to local control instead projects a long road ahead.
The document, released Monday by a team of outside reviewers, indicates that there has been improvement but much remains to be done before the district is ready to take over from state administrators who have been in charge since 1993.
"It's important for Compton to be able to function after everyone leaves," said Christine Frasier, one of the study coordinators.
Issued as a report card, the $500,000 study found the Compton district at or near completion on about a fifth of 372 essential changes in five categories ranging from pupil achievement to financial management.
Initial progress was cited in financial stability and student performance. But the district fell short in tasks as simple as installing enough school fire extinguishers and as complex as aligning classroom curriculum with testing.
In several areas studied, including hiring and special education, auditors found the district was out of compliance with state and federal regulations.
The study attributes the gradual pace to the complexity of problems in the 29,000-student district along with school board infighting and mounting pressure from a disheartened and sometimes disruptive community.
But Washington (D-Paramount), who has pushed for the district to be free of the state by next year, said the blame is misdirected.
"I think the direction of the report is focused on the school board members who have no authority and on the chaos that anybody would cause if they had their power taken away," Washington said. "That chaos is state-inspired."
Four Compton board members attended an afternoon hearing on the study before the Assembly Select Committee on Compton Unified School District, which Washington heads. A majority spoke in support of the study's findings, including Basil Kimbrew, who shortly after his election in 1995 challenged the state's takeover in court.
"I know everyone wants the power back," Kimbrew said, "but we have to make sure we're ready to handle the responsibility for educating 29,000 kids."
Facing a financial shortfall of almost $20 million in 1993, the district sought a state loan that came with strings attached: the state takeover.
Turmoil continued as five state-appointed administrators tried their hands at improving both the fiscal and academic aspects of the troubled system, where nepotism and corruption ran rampant.
Current state administrator Randy Ward told the committee he had pledged to stay for the duration. "I know of your impatience on this, Mr. Washington, and I am just as impatient," Ward said. The new study and its recommendations will ultimately make the transition possible, Ward said, "if we can all have just a little more patience."
The timing of the transfer of power remains in dispute, however. Washington has said 2000, Ward has said three to five years from now, and the new audit is more circumspect, suggesting that it should occur when the district manages to implement the 372 standards at a level of 7.5 on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is no implementation and 10 is complete.
Restoring local control was a major theme of Washington's campaign for the Legislature in 1996. Once the minister took a closer look, he became persuaded the transition should be gradual.
Washington said he "wanted the truth," but he didn't expect the study to identify such a wide chasm between the district's condition and its goals.
"Is any other school district undergoing this scrutiny?" he lamented Monday. "No, they're not!"
Getting the study's worst rating was personnel, where auditors found not only poor human resources training, but also a lack of procedures for dealing with fingerprinting, tuberculosis testing and sexual harassment complaints. Second worst was student achievement. Test scores have improved, but remain abysmally low in most areas. Yet auditors found the district had no process in place to use scores and other student assessments as a road map for teaching. Also cited as a festering problem were racial tensions between the majority black district staff and school board and the new majority of Latino students and parents.
Tuesday, February 2, 1999, Education: Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved