Only hours before he was to be named the next head of Compton's schools, a veteran New Mexico educator withdrew from consideration, saying his health was not robust enough to do the job.
The withdrawal of Jesse Gonzales, superintendent of schools in Las Cruces for the last 12 years, plunged the search for Compton's first locally appointed superintendent in eight years into confusion.
The nationally known Gonzales had overwhelmed a weak field of applicants, becoming the consensus choice of board members, community leaders and even state education officials who took over the district in 1993 because of financial and academic problems.
In a two-page letter faxed to the school board shortly after noon Friday, Gonzales said that he declined the offer "with regret" but that he had aggravated an ulcer recently and visited his doctor Friday morning. "He once again reminded me of my advancing age and strongly suggested I consider slowing down and plan my retirement--not my next career move," Gonzales wrote.
Compton board members had scheduled a meeting Friday afternoon to approve final details of a three-year contract. The 63-year-old New Mexican told board members this week that he would sign on if they bumped their initial salary offer by $10,000 to $165,000 a year and boost benefits and moving costs.
Gonzales hung up the phone after receiving a call from The Times on Friday. He did not return messages left at his home.
Compton school officials declined to comment. But board members said they were surprised by the letter, issued only three hours before their 3:30 p.m. meeting.
A source involved in the search said the board, instead of choosing one of three other finalists for the job, had decided to renew its search.