The Compton Unified School District board election has a little of everything: from mystery candidates to firebrand challengers to defenders of the status quo.
All told, 12 candidates, including three incumbents, are running for three board seats Tuesday.
Incumbents say the district is on the right track to recovering its image and improving its product. They say a change of leadership could endanger valuable board harmony and dismantle the best chance for progress Compton schools have had in years. The challengers say the district and its educational programs are in chaos, that almost any change would be better and that they have specific solutions that could make a lasting difference.
The mystery candidates are Orion Moore and Basil Kimbrew. District officials said they do not know how to contact either candidate. Organizers of campaign forums said they also cannot locate them. Attempts by The Times to interview them were equally unsuccessful.
At 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, the imposing Amen Rahh has no problems with either visibility or leading the attack on incumbents. The black studies professor at Cal State Long Beach keeps a scrapbook of articles and information about the school district's troubles. And he is always poised to cite, chapter and verse, the district's problems and what he would do about them. At one campaign forum, he became so enraged at incumbent board members that his gestures caused his shirttail to come untucked and two buttons to fly open.
Rahh had the longest list of alleged district sins, including specific charges of Health Code violations, faulty planning, legal problems and wasteful spending. District officials deny most of them. He also accuses board and staff members of insensitivity, citing an incident in which a high school student complained to the board that her school was short of teachers, desks, books and other supplies.
"Not one of them asked for a staff report," Rahh said. "Not one of them said, 'I am going to visit the school and see what the problem is.' "
Challenger Dwight Prince has a contrasting style. Prince, a Long Beach elementary school principal, cut his teeth as a Compton teacher and administrator. A dapper man, he speaks with Ivy League elocution about the need to improve the district's image as well as the reality of Compton schools.
Nabeehah Al-Uqdah defines herself as the parents' choice. "We parents are constantly going before the board and we get no results," she said. "We are no longer going to sit idly by while our children's future is sold down the drain."
Sadie Benham said she is the challenger who would fight to return prayer to schools. Benham said she rose from being a welfare mother to a schoolteacher and Democratic National Convention delegate. Her tone is conciliatory. She would like to see a staff Christmas reception, for example. "Teachers and aides need to know they are appreciated," she said.
Challenger Otha Ray Scott, a high school math teacher in Paramount, spoke of a need for higher teacher pay. "Other districts pay $10,000 to $15,000 more a year," he said. "Our good teachers are leaving the district."
Carl Robinson, a K mart store manager, has a simple campaign theme: throw the rascals out. "They had plenty of time to implement their innovative programs," he said. "We've got to elect some new people this time. If not Carl Robinson, then somebody else.
"If they were working on the job," he said of the current board, "you'd fire them. I bet people all over (the) nation laugh at us."
Walter Goodin, a Baptist minister, began each campaign forum by praising God. Although his voice is softer, his words are as stinging as those of the other challengers. Compton High School students in his Bible class cannot do simple arithmetic or fill out a job application, he said. "They cannot even spell Genesis when they get out of high school."
In his child's third-grade class, "the first question the teacher asked was, 'Can anybody read?' My son's class has 39 kids and one teacher." Goodin used to send his children to private schools, but "I brought 'em back because we can't run from our problems."
In all, the challengers' attacks have been a litany of the district's problems in recent years: low test scores, high dropout rate, graffiti-covered campuses, aging buildings, the loss of teachers to districts that pay higher salaries, an inability to attract enough bilingual teachers, campus violence, and racial and gang tensions in a student population that is 49% Latino and 50% black.
Incumbent Lynn Dymally said the challengers have raised valid issues, and that she and fellow board members are trying to solve these problems. "If you go into our schools, you will find that they are cleaner and safer," said Dymally, who directs the Mervyn M. Dymally Scholarship Foundation for her father, Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton).
Dymally and the two other incumbents on the ballot--Cloria Patillo and board President Mary Henry--said that some district difficulties are problems that exist statewide. Most districts cannot find enough bilingual teachers, they noted. For its part, the district has gone as far as Spain in an effort to recruit Spanish-speaking teachers, they said.
Other problems have resulted from social forces beyond the power of the local school board, Henry said. "The job of recruiting and retaining teachers is not just a Compton problem. They should be paid equal to the people in industry, in medicine," she said. "One of the myths that prevails is that schools have the answers to everything."
Henry, who directs a Los Angeles drug- and alcohol-abuse treatment center, said she is always ready to hear and resolve any district problems that are brought to her attention. Improvement, however, cannot happen overnight, she said. "You don't just flick a match."
Patillo, a grocery store cashier, said the board is doing its best. "I will continue to work as hard as I do every day . . . to see our students get the best of everything," she said.
The incumbents praised Supt. J. L. Handy, who took the post a year ago. Under his leadership the district has begun a homework-assistance program, made district curriculum more progressive and initiated an aggressive mid-career training program for teachers, district officials said.
Incumbents also commend what they term a spirit of harmony and purpose on the current board. Like the other challengers, Prince was not impressed. "Don't you think somebody needs to get up there and be disruptive?" he asked the audience at one forum.
"I am by no means perfect," Dymally responded. But "my motives are sincere and my conscience clear."
Compton Unified School District
Areas served: Compton and surrounding unincorporated areas
On the ballot: 12 candidates for three seats. Ten candidates are listed below. Attempts to contact candidates Basil Kimbrew and Orion Moore were not successful.
Board member since 1989. Also served from 1983 to 1987
Profession: director of the Mervyn M. Dymally Scholarship Foundation
Remarks: "I have the educational background and board experience." She cited her law degree from Whittier College and a master's in business management from the University of Redlands. "I understand the operations and the frustrations you have trying to make progress. I am progressive in my ideas. We need to seek out creative ways to generate our own money. We need to find ways to increase and improve student achievement." She is proud that "we were able to balance the budget without major layoffs."
Board member since 1983
Profession: director of a Los Angeles County drug and alcohol counseling center
Remarks: "The children in the Compton Unified School District have a right to expect a quality education, and through staff development and training we feel that we are addressing their needs. Our parents must feel that they are partners in this endeavor and the end result will be students who can compete any time and any place. Once equipped with the type of education they deserve, our students will become responsible, adaptable and productive citizens of the 21st Century."
Board member since 1987
Profession: grocery store cashier
Remarks: "In this campaign we don't have any major issues other than we're going to increase our student test scores, and we anticipate having a safe teaching and a good learning environment. Our schools are not so bad that you cannot come to school and be safe, but we anticipate improving the safety of our schools and have done so. This board has become a united board where we can sit down and solve problems in an effective manner. We have people who are very concerned about this district."
Profession: owner of chrome plating company
Remarks: "The schools that are most successful are the ones that have parent involvement. At this district, parents are hindered at every step. The board is not responsive to parents and not responsive to the community." She said a regular newsletter would be a first step to improving communication. "As a parent and concerned community activist, I represent the majority of the people who feel they have no representation on the board."
Profession: Compton Unified elementary teacher
Remarks: "I'm going to be a champion for bringing prayer back into schools." Other issues of concern are the graffiti problem and the general upkeep of schools. "We're losing a lot of students to private schools mainly because of that reason." Benham said that, if elected, she would retire so that she can devote her time to being a board member. She said prior experience as a school board member in Santa Ana and her teaching background have prepared her for the Compton board.
Profession: Baptist minister, owner of maintenance company and paralegal
Remarks: "The problem is getting qualified, dedicated teachers and how the district is spending money. I have been a community activist for almost 14 years. I am a member of the district advisory council and chairman of a school-site advisory council. I am concerned with the high dropout rate and social promotion, where children are passed on to the next grade when they shouldn't be. We end up with students who graduate but can't fill out a job application. Our kids are not excelling."
Profession: Long Beach elementary school principal
Remarks: "The biggest issue is student achievement and creating an environment in which students can achieve." He said the district must also change its image of failure and improve employee morale. "I've been in education for 22 years as principal, teacher and administrator in Compton. I am a parent of two school-aged children who attend the Compton district. I think that the board should be proactive and take more of a leadership role in the district."
Profession: black studies professor at Cal State Long Beach, director of transfer center at Compton Community College
Remarks: "The major issues, you have so many: the bankruptcy of solutions to improving test scores, the alienation of the community from the school district, the proposed takeover of the district by the state, the racial powder keg between blacks and Latinos. They're sitting on four lawsuits right now for lack of bilingual teachers. They have some kids from birth all the way to 18 years old and all they have to show for it are Jheri curls and earrings on some of the young men. That school board is dangerous to the health and well-being of the kids."
Carl Robinson Sr.
Profession: Compton teacher's aide, customer service manager for K mart
Remarks: "The incumbents have been there too long. There is no leadership at the board level." Despite having "high-paid administrators, our students are at the bottom of every academic area. We also need cleaner schools and to deal with the problem of bilingual education." As a former Compton Community College trustee, "I understand budget procedures, and I am very well qualified. It's time to make a change."
Otha Ray Scott
Profession: math teacher at Paramount High School
Remarks: "The biggest issue in this election is the inability of Compton to keep good teachers because of their salary structure. We can't keep good teachers when we pay less than other districts pay. I have had 13 years of teaching experience and also have experience putting together different programs. This gives me the insight on what is needed in the district and in the classroom."