Bill would streamline school system leadership

June 22, 2011 1:31:15 PM PDT
A bill that recently sailed through the Senate would shift the policymaking powers of the State Board of Education to the superintendent of public instruction and the state's Department of Education.

Sponsored by Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, SB 204 seeks to untangle what has been a complex bureaucratic relationship among the state board, state superintendent and governor's office. The state Senate voted 26-13 in favor of the bill on June 1. The proposal now is being reviewed by the Assembly's Education Committee.

If approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, the bill would create a director of education, who would be responsible for overseeing policy and report to the superintendent. The state board members would become advisers to the governor and would be organized by geographic areas of the state.

The legislation comes in response to several academic studies that have criticized California educational governance as inefficient and overly complex.

Robert Oakes, spokesman for Liu, told Capitol Weekly recently that the bill represents the senator's desire to "provoke a debate" on how the state can best govern its public schools.

"Senator Liu does not know the best answer or final answer, but it is important to engage a dialogue to reach consensus this year," said Oakes. "She has always felt there are too many chiefs here; the system is really complicated and it's time to step back and look at more effective ways of running it."

Under the state's existing structure, the governor controls education policy through his appointments of the state board. The board has authority over curriculum creation, charter school matters, federal waivers, transfer appeals and special education. Yet the state superintendent exercises considerable authority over education policy as the supervisor of the day-to-day operations of the Department of Education.

On occasion, the board and governor have clashed with the the state superintendent, who is directly chosen by the state's voters. In the 1990s, the state board sued then-Superintendent Bill Honig over questions of authority. And as recently as last year, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating the state superintendent's position.

Former state Superintendents Jack O'Connell and Delaine Eastin, who encountered tense moments with governors over policy directions, both have expressed their support for tweaking the current system.

"We should be administering the public's policies with old-fashioned, competent leadership and good administrative bureaucratic structure, and right now, it isn't set up that way," Eastin told Capitol Weekly.

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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