COMPTON : Schools Chief Escalates Fight Over New Trustee

The state-appointed administrator of city schools abruptly canceled a meeting of the Compton school board Tuesday night in an ongoing battle over the board’s controversial appointment of a new member.

Administrator Jerome Harris canceled the session after appointed board member Saul E. Lankster showed up to take his seat.

The standoff began in November when Harris challenged the board’s decision to select Lankster, a former school board member, over 12 other applicants.

Lankster, a cable television show host and flower shop owner, was chosen to replace board member Lynn Dymally, whose term is scheduled to end in November. Lankster served on the board from 1977-81.


Harris said board members violated the state’s public meeting laws by approving Lankster’s appointment in a secret ballot.

Harris asked the state Department of Education to determine whether the board’s vote was proper. He also asked the state to determine whether Lankster should be disqualified because of his 1985 felony conviction for selling false traffic school diplomas to an undercover officer. State officials have yet to make a decision.

The board also drew criticism for appointing Lankster, who is African American, instead of a Latino applicant who received the top rating from a screening committee.

Harris said he will not schedule any more board meetings if Lankster insists on taking his seat. Instead, he plans to hold public forums to get input from the community.


“We have a few people that seem to have a greater interest in disruption than improving education,” Harris said. “Rather than become part of the solution, they’ve chosen to become part of the problem.”

Lankster criticized Harris’ decision to cancel the Tuesday meeting. “I think it is an affront to the community,” he said.

Even if Lankster’s appointment is sanctioned by the state, the power of the school board is limited. The board was stripped of its authority two years ago after the beleaguered school district received a $20-million bailout from the state. Last year, Harris was appointed by the state to oversee the district’s financial recovery and improve the performance of students.