Wednesday, July 12, 2006

School Board with no budget

Budgetless, school panel meets today

Its president has quit after squabble with Democrats.

By Aurelio Rojas -- Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 12:01 am PDT Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The California Board of Education, which sets policy for the state's 6 million public school students, will meet today with no money in its budget, no president and feeling neglected by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
On June 30, the same day the Republican governor signed a budget that did not include any money for the board's staff, the panel's president, Glee Johnson, abruptly quit.

"I think she felt the Governor's Office was overlooking the significance of the board and what it does," said Roger Magyar, the board's executive director, adding the budget mess was a factor.

Johnson, who as an aide to Gov. Pete Wilson helped usher in school standards and accountability, did not give a reason for her resignation and was not available for comment Tuesday.

But during her six months as president, the 11-member board split on several matters, including how English learners should be taught -- a recurring issue that has divided Democratic lawmakers and the board.

In April, the board voted down a proposal for instructional materials designed to help English learners, angering members of the 27-member Latino Caucus. In response, Democrats stripped $1.6 million for the board's staff from the budget that Schwarzenegger signed -- despite appeals to the administration by board officials, Magyar said.

Sen. Martha Escutia, who is carrying legislation, Senate Bill 1769, to expand instructional materials for English learners, said she told the governor late last month that the board would not get funding in the state budget.

"I said it in front of his chief of staff (Susan Kennedy) and other people," said Escutia, D-Whittier. "Maybe they made the mistake of underestimating me."

The money for the board's staff is now in SB 1769, which also would provide the instructional materials Escutia asked the board to support.

Meanwhile, the board's civil service staff is being paid with money from the state Department of Education while other staffers are on the payroll of the Governor's Office, Magyar said.

"We want to work with the Legislature to restore the funding as quickly as possible," said Sabrina Lockhard, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger.

The budget, she said, contains two items for materials for English learners -- a $30 million, one-time appropriation and $20 million to research how best to teach such students.

Magyar said that because the overall education budget was not as contentious as in previous years, the board's funding "slipped through the cracks."

He said Johnson and other board officials alerted the administration about the issue, to no avail.

"There were some people who said, 'Governor, we think you ought to take action against the Legislature,' " Magyar said. But he said the governor's advisers told him it was too late to hold up the budget over the matter.

Schwarzenegger, who is running for re-election, had made a strong push to sign the budget before the fiscal year that began July 1. It was the first time since 2000 that the budget had been signed that soon.

Lockhard said the board is still carrying out its responsibilities -- and has Schwarzenegger's strong backing.

"The governor is proud of the board," she said. "He really supports them, he believes that they're doing an excellent job."

Rebecca Parker, a board consultant and civil service employee, said the staff remains committed to its jobs.

"We've chosen to continue to do business because the (school) districts in the state depend on us," she said.

On Tuesday, Schwarzenegger -- who has been courting Latino voters during his re-election campaign -- appointed David Lopez, president of National Hispanic University in San Jose, to replace Johnson on the board.

Today, the board is scheduled to select a new president. A possible candidate is Joe Nuñez, currently the only Latino on the board and an official of the California Teachers Association.

Lopez is expected to attend the board meeting, although his appointment to the four-year term requires Senate confirmation. Last year, a Senate panel rejected Schwarzenegger's bid to reappoint Reed Hastings to the board.

As head of the panel, the Silicon Valley businessman lost support of Latino lawmakers for bucking their efforts to expand instructional materials for English learners.

Lopez, who runs a school whose goal is to increase college attendance of Latino students, should meet less resistance, said Maria Quezada, director of the California Association for Bilingual Education.

Last week, former Govs. Wilson and Gray Davis, in a rare show of bipartisanship, sent a joint letter to Schwarzenegger urging him not to retreat from the curriculum standards and testing they pushed through while in office.

Escutia said the legislation she is exhorting Schwarzenegger to back would not change standards or expand bilingual education.

That issue, she said, was settled by Proposition 227, the 1998 ballot measure that largely eliminated bilingual education in California.

"What we're trying to do is provide the materials for these students to learn," she said. "This is not about bilingual education."


About the writer:

The Bee's Aurelio Rojas can be reached at (916) 326-5545 or arojas@sacbee.com.
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