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Calif. Governor Vetoes Bill To Redefine Education Roles

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Gov. Pete Wilson of California last week vetoed a bill aimed at ending a decades-long power struggle between the state schools chief and board of education.

The bill would have given the elected state superintendent executive control of the state education department, with power to set its budget and policy.

In his veto message, Mr. Wilson argued that the bill would restrict the governor's authority to shape school policy and break with legal precedent. He also emphasized the importance of the state board having chief responsibility for managing state education programs.

Supporters of the bill, however, warned that the veto will intensify uncertainty and conflicts that have led to years of feuding between the board, which is appointed by the governor, and the superintendent.

William D. Dawson, the acting superintendent, expressed disappointment over the Governor's decision.

In a letter earlier this month, Mr. Dawson said the legislation was needed to promote "a more positive, productive relationship'' between the forces that have often clashed.

Board Authority Upheld

The legislative attempt to redefine the state's education hierarchy grew from a February ruling by a state appeals court in a lawsuit contesting the balance of power. The court's decision gave dominant authority for setting school goals and policies to the state board. (See Education Week, April 14, 1993.)

The bill was passed by the legislature last month with strong backing from state education groups, but was considered a longshot to win approval from the Governor.

In his letter, Mr. Dawson appealed to Governor Wilson for an act of "extraordinary'' statesmanship, while also pledging to work within whatever system that prevailed.

But the Governor showed no interest in moving away from the court's decision.

"The state board, by its nature as a group of individuals, provides for many important democratic functions that a superintendent, as an individual, cannot,'' he wrote.

Mr. Wilson also said the governor deserves a greater role in setting the tone for state education priorities.

"To some extent, all governors are elected on the basis of the public education policy objectives and priorities they outline,'' he said. "To deny the chief executive of the state the ability to articulate policy objectives in matters of education would be shortsighted and unreasonable.''

Candidates' 'Second Thoughts'

Observers of the legislative battle said it remains to be seen whether the formally diminished role of the state superintendent's post will alter the field of candidates considering running for the post next year. Mr. Dawson is filling the rest of the term left vacant by Bill Honig, the veteran chief who left office this year following conviction on conflict-of-interest charges.

"The feeling is that it is making them have second thoughts,'' one education lobbyist said. "The people who have run for that job are strong-willed and strongly for education reform.''

In the wake of the veto, some political leaders have begun to discuss the idea of a ballot initiative, which many see as the last resort for upgrading the superintendent's standing.

In the meantime, analysts said, the bill's failure will probably not alter the day-to-day operations of the department, which has steered clear of confrontations with the Governor and the board in recent months.

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