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California Board Sues in State High Court To Force Honig To Implement Its Policies

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By Peter Schmidt

The California Board of Education last week launched a new stage in its bitter feud with Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig by asking the state supreme court to order Mr. Honig to implement its policies.

In a petition filed last Thursday, the board accused the superintendent of shirking his statutory responsibility by failing to heed the panel's demands for greater authority over the state education department's hiring, budget, and policy directives.

Joseph D. Carrabino, president of the board, said in a statement that the court needed to clarify the board's statutory and constitutional powers to "allow it to effect substantial improvements in the way education funding is accounted for."

California schools "are at an impasse,'' and are being denied the benefits of the board's leadership as a result of the superintendent's refusal to carry out its policies, the statement said.

In response, Mr. Honig last week characterized the beard's suit as part of an overall conspiracy by board members and political conservatives to discredit him and seize his power.

"Obviously, I think this is part of a political agenda," Mr. Honig said. "It is pretty obvious to me that they don't want to compromise."

The superintendent accused Mr. Carrabino of also being behind a current investigation by State Attorney General Daniel E. Lungren into Mr. Honig's use of state funds in connection with a nonprofit education-consulting firm run by his wife. (See Education Week, Oct. 31, 1991 .)

"It's the same war on different fronts," Mr. Honig said.

Mr. Carrabino has denied involvement in the attorney general's probe and maintained that he is simply trying to resolve, once and for all, a dispute over the relative legal powers of the board and superintendent that has persisted through much of this century.

At a closed meeting held Nov. 8, the board voted 6 to 3 to take Mr. Honig to court and 7 to 2 to reaffirm its contract with its lawyer in the suit, Sharon L. Browne of the Sacramento firm of Zumbrun, Best, and Findiey.

Mr. Honig last week asserted that the board had acted illegally in hiring a lawyer on its own and excluding him from its Nov. 8 meeting. But Ms. Browne said her contract was legal and that the meeting had to be closed because "it was dealing with pending litigation."

Noting that the terms of Mr. Carrabino and three other board members will expire soon, Mr. Honig characterized his dispute with the board as "a short-term problem."

Mr. Honig said that Gov. Pete Wilson appears unwilling to appoint new members who would continue the panel's fight with the superintendent.

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