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Changes urged in running of schools: More local control advised by analyst
By Dan Smith, Bee Deputy Capitol Bureau Chief (Published May 12, 1999)

State politicians should put aside their penchant for managing California schools and leave most budgeting and employee decisions to local school boards, Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill said Tuesday.

In a report suggesting the state adopt a coherent master plan for education, the nonpartisan analyst's office also said the respective roles of the elected state superintendent of public instruction, the governor's secretary for education and the appointed California Board of Education must be refined to eliminate counterproductive turf wars.

Significantly, Hill recommended that control of the massive Department of Education be shifted from the superintendent to the governor's education secretary, reducing the superintendent to a "bully pulpit (role), focused on accountability and local control." The state board, the members of which are appointed by the governor, should focus on long-term policy and program monitoring, Hill said.

She said the changes could be accomplished by simple vote of the Legislature and approval of the governor, without seeking voter approval to change the state constitution.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said state school governance issues need to be resolved, but complained that Hill's suggestions would reduce her role to "a bureaucratic accountant."

Gov. Gray Davis said he hadn't seen the analyst's report, but indicated that major structural changes to education governance aren't necessarily at the top of his list of measures to improve school performance.

"Long term, I think some changes would be in order," Davis said, "but . . . I don't want to get sidetracked by juggling the boxes on an organizational chart. I want to focus my energies on efforts that will directly pay off in student achievement." Hill said state lawmakers and the governor should begin the process to draft and implement a long-term education plan that clarifies state governance issues and empowers local school boards, administrators and teachers unions.

The state's role, she said, should focus on providing adequate funding and "to insure that there's a stable, straight-forward state budgeting and policy environment in which schools and districts can operate."

Under the analyst's proposed model, for instance, the state-designed class-size reduction program would have given local districts more flexibility in reaching the goal of smaller classes, she said.

"The state still needs to set the policy direction and the vision and certainly be sure to provide the funding that's adequate to meet the standards, but from our vantage point, the 'how' should be left the locals," Hill said.

In addition, Hill's report says school operations should be largely deregulated, with many issues decided through collective bargaining with local teachers unions. State rules on teacher credentialing, for instance, should be less rigid so local districts have the option of hiring well-qualified teachers who have not fulfilled credentialing requirements.

The current system, in which state laws and bureaucracy often dictate precisely how school money is spent and how schools are structured, sometimes blurs lines of accountability, said Paul Warren, the principal policy analyst who wrote the report.

"The state can only do so much with accountability," he said. "School boards need to be accountable, but if you don't give them important power to make decisions, then voters and parents don't become involved in what happens in the school district."

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