Some Compton school board members and residents bitterly criticized the state's decision to reject the board's appointment of a felon to fill a vacant board seat.
State schools Supt. Delaine Eastin said that the board's choice, Saul E. Lankster, is not fit to serve because of a 1985 conviction for selling falsified traffic school diplomas to an undercover officer.
Eastin also noted that Lankster's teaching credential had been revoked, and that he had ignored state officials' requests for an explanation.
Because of his conviction and refusal to open his past to state scrutiny, Lankster "is not my choice to serve on a public school board," Eastin said in a letter to school board President Cloria L. Patillo.
The school board also received a stern admonition from Eastin for appointing Lankster in a secret ballot. The board voted 4 to 2 in November to appoint Lankster, but the state administrator overseeing the beleaguered district challenged the appointment and asked the state school superintendent for a ruling.
Lankster refused to comment on the superintendent's decision and referred all calls to his attorney. Lankster has contended that he is a qualified candidate and should be allowed to serve because he has paid for his crime.
Eastin's ruling angered board members Michael Hopwood and Amen Rahh. During the board meeting Tuesday, Hopwood called the decision arbitrary. Rahh added, "This is a total insult to the community and to us as elected officials."
Some board members said they selected Lankster, in part, because of his previous board experience. Lankster served on the board from 1977-81 and has remained active in the community. He owns a flower shop in Compton and is a host on a cable television talk show.
Resident Carolyn Patterson also said she supported Lankster's appointment. "We want him to take his seat," she told the board at its meeting Tuesday. "He has just as much right to sit there as you do."
The seat has been vacant since September, when board member Lynn Dymally was ousted after a series of unexcused absences. Eastin said the post should remain open until the district holds a regular election in November, when Dymally's seat and two others will be up for election.
Some board members said Eastin's rejection of Lankster's appointment is another example of the state's heavy-handed treatment of the Compton school system since taking control 18 months ago.
The state appointed an administrator, Jerome Harris, to oversee the beleaguered district and reduced the school board to an advisory body.
Hopwood has accused Harris and other state officials of stripping them of their only remaining power: to decide who can sit on the board.
"There's a much larger question here about the state's role," Hopwood said. "If you remove the board, those people working in the district, the students and parents will not have a voice in what's going on."
One board member who had voted against Lankster's appointment said Lankster should have divulged details of his history.
"If you don't have anything to hide, you should not be afraid to provide the information they ask you to," board member Gorgonio Sanchez Jr. said before the Tuesday meeting. "You should be trustworthy."