Wilson Signs Bills To Keep Youths, Districts Healthy

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Pete Wilson capped his first legislative session as Governor of California last week by signing bills aimed at keeping the state's children healthy and its school districts financially alive.

Fulfilling several pledges from his campaign last fall, the Governor succeeded in enacting several preventive measures designed to help protect children from disease, emotional problems, drug abuse, or failure in school.

Culminating a year of fiscal hardship for the state and its school districts, Mr. Wilson also approved a measure empowering the state to keep local systems out of financial trouble.

The new law gives state and county officials more authority to monitor the fiscal health of districts and take them over if necessary.

Drafted by Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin in response to chronic deficit spending by several districts, the measure was designed to prevent a repeat of last spring's debacle with Richmond Unified School District, which the state was forced to bail out after it threatened to close early for lack of funds. (See Education Week, May 8, 1991 .)

"The financial health of the state's schools is deteriorating," State Controller Gray Davis warned in a statement calling on the Governor to sign the accountability bill.

The state still faces "financially stressful times," Mr. Davis noted. "There is a simple choice: Either we see the exercise of fiscal discipline, or the schools lose."

Targeting Fiscal Gimmicks

The new fiscal-accountability law speeds up the process of reviewing district budgets and gives county authorities the power to make needed changes in those budgets if school officials refuse to do so.

To discourage the use of financial gimmicks to balance district budgets, the accountability law also requires school systems to get the approval of county officials before proposing bends or other long-term notes.

In addition, the law requires districts to publicly disclose the costs of collective bargaining contracts before agreeing to them.

If, despite these precautions, districts get into trouble and require a large loan from the state, the state would appoint an administrator to operate the district until it regains its financial health.

As originally proposed by Ms. Eastin, the legislation also gave the state-appointed administrator power to reopen contracts.

The provision was taken out, however, after local school officials complained that it would make it more difficult and expensive for them to enter into lease-purchase agreements. Unions, however, objected to the idea of limiting the administrators' powers only to contracts with district employees.

Also removed from the bill, under strong lobbying pressure from the Association for California School Administrators, was a provision that would have prevented school beards from renewing the contract of a district superintendent until 75 percent of the existing contract had been completed.

'A New Way of Serving'

Governor Wilson said in a press release that he had approved $89 million worth of "preventive" spending for children to put the state "on the road to a new way of serving California youth."

"In areas of health, nutrition, school adjustment, and academic achievement, these initiatives are aimed at putting children on the fight track as early as possible," he said.

The package of five bills signed by the Governor includes a measure expanding the state preschool program to serve an additional 21,000 4-year-olds--twice as many as currently served--at a cost of $45 million.

"Every dollar we invest in comprehensive preschool saves us five dollars down the line in welfare, remedial education, and crime costs," Mr. Wilson said.

"In the state's current fiscal climate," Mr. Wilson said, "this is precisely the kind of prevention program we must pursue."

Other parts of the preventive package would:

  • Distribute $20 million in grants to local education agencies to integrate support services for children.
  • Expand school-based counseling for children in kindergarten through 3rd grade, at a cost of $10 million.
  • Revive and revamp the state testing program, at a cost of $lO million, to assess students in 4th, 5th, 8th, and lOth grades and make their individual scores available to parents. (See Education Week, Sept. 11, 1991.)
  • Provide $4 million to expand drug-education programs in juniorhigh schools.

Election Bills Vetoed

Mr. Wilson also vetoed a number of measures, including two bills intended to make it easier for minorities to get elected to local school boards. One of the measures would have required urban systems with large minority populations to elect their board members by sub-districts, rather than at large. Mr. Wilson said the bill infringed on the rights of localities to choose their own election procedures. The other measure would have allowed 5 percent of a district's registered voters to put a measure on the local ballot to establish school-beard elections by region. That bill was not in line with the usual requirement that 10 percent of voters sign a ballot initiative, Mr. Wilson said.

The Governor also vetoed a bill that would have established pilot "neighborhood family-services organizations" to test new ways of delivering social services at the neighborhood level.

The proposal duplicated several initiatives already undertaken by the state and would have created unnecessary state-level bureaucracy, Mr. Wilson said in a note to the legislature last week.

In addition, the Governor rejected a measure requiring the University of California and California State University systems to graduate the same proportions of minority higher-education students as they admit.

Vol. 11, Issue 08, Page 20

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