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Chairman's Resignation Latest Upset for Hispanic Panel

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ByLynn Schnaiberg
Washington

The President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, jolted earlier this month when its chairman resigned, has had a bumpy ride through two administrations.

The panel is charged with bolstering Hispanics' participation in federal education programs and targeting ways to eliminate educational inequities. One report was issued in 1992, but the panels have generated mostly controversy, as some activists have criticized both the Bush and Clinton administrations for what they consider a lack of support.

Ra£l Yzaguirre, the president of the Washington-based National Council of La Raza, charged when he resigned that the panel lacked the political independence and resources needed to do its job. He was due to step down from the chairmanship in June. (See Education Week, April 17, 1996.)

"The bottom line is that this commission has not been taken seriously enough by this administration or previous administrations," Mr. Yzaguirre said in an interview last week.

"This is being taken seriously," a White House spokeswoman said in response. "The president is looking forward to seeing the report and recommendations so we can implement them."

The criticisms and the administration's protestations have a familiar ring to observers.

Checkered Past

The first Hispanic education commission was created in 1990, when President Bush signed an executive order under pressure from Hispanic groups. But it was nearly a year before Mr. Bush appointed commission members and a permanent executive director.

Hispanic leaders said they considered staging a news conference to denounce Mr. Bush's inaction. Richard Marquez, who had been the panel's acting executive director, stated bluntly at the time that it was a low priority for the administration and that he had been given no support.

"I don't think there's a lot of good faith," he said. (See Education Week, Oct. 16, 1991.)

The Bush panel's "progress report" also upset many Hispanic groups for failing to make what they considered strong recommendations for federal action. (See Education Week, Oct. 21, 1992.)

The earlier panelists complained of a lack of staff and resources--concerns echoed last week by some of the current commission's members.

When Mr. Clinton took office in 1993, Hispanic groups pushed for a more expansive executive order, which he issued on Feb. 22, 1994. It requires federal agencies to assign senior officials to work with the panel, draft plans for increasing Hispanic participation in education programs, and submit performance reports. With the new order and a new, Democratic administration, many observers said, expectations in the Hispanic community rose.

As under the Bush administration, the panel includes educators, business leaders, and others, and is served by staff members of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, which is housed in the Department of Education's office of intergovernmental and interagency affairs.

The panel's budget for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, is still being debated by congressional negotiators, with the House proposing to kill its funding. In fiscal 1995, the panel had a budget of $144,617--about half of which was one-time funding for contracting fees-- and the initiative was allotted another $61,000.

There are three core staff members, although the panel has had as many as eight other workers loaned from other federal agencies, according to Alfred R. Ramirez, the executive director.

A Rocky Start

The new panel got off to a somewhat rocky start.

Christopher Kelly, a former Education Department official who was working for the White House domestic-policy council at the time, last week said that Hispanic groups wanted the prestige of a commission run from the White House. It was a "contentious point," he said, but the administration had pledged to cut the White House staff.

Many commissioners felt snubbed in September 1994 when they learned that their swearing-in ceremony was to be conducted by a federal judge in a Washington hotel instead of by President Clinton at the White House. Months later, the panel was sworn in by Vice President Al Gore.

Mr. Yzaguirre, one of two members who also served under President Bush, said the commission's structure is "flawed" because, as a presidentially appointed panel, it lacks bipartisanship and autonomy. Mr. Yzaguirre said he originally thought the structure could succeed with "new players" and a new administration, but now is convinced it cannot.

Mr. Yzaguirre also said the panel has had problems getting some agencies to cooperate in gathering complete data on Hispanic participation in federal education programs.

Some commissioners interviewed last week said they too were troubled by the turnover among staff aides assigned by other agencies and the lack of resources allotted to the panel, particularly as Congress is considering cutting off its funding. Some said they thought the panel should have met more often, but were told there was not enough money. Some members said recent drafts of its forthcoming report are not up to snuff, but they expect major changes before it is released in June.

However, none of the other commissioners interviewed agreed with Mr. Yzaguirre's view that the panel was overly partisan and thus unlikely to issue a critical report for fear of hurting Mr. Clinton in an election year.

An Uncertain Future?

"His allegations of partisanship are absolutely false," said Ana "Cha" Guzm n, a vice president of Austin Community College in Texas, who was named the chairwoman of the panel last week. Her husband is a former Democratic National Committee official.

Mr. Ramirez, the executive director, said some of the panel's difficulties stemmed from the sheer size of its task--gathering information from 32 agencies, as opposed to 16 reported on by the Bush panel--and were worsened by last winter's federal government shutdowns.

Ms. Guzm n said Mr. Yzaguirre's departure would not damage the panel. But some other observers disagreed.

"It weakens the position of the commission, frankly," said commissioner Janice Petrovich, a program officer at the Ford Foundation in New York City.

"The commission has never been given the prestige or the autonomy that it deserves," said Rosie Torres, the director of public policy for Aspira, a Hispanic advocacy group based in Washington.

"Whether this effort will be credible remains to be seen," said Ms. Torres, who is not a panel member. "But they need to go forward and do their work."

Washington Editor Mark Pitsch contributed to this report.

Following are the current members of the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.

Ana "Cha" Guzman (chairwoman), vice president, Austin Community College, Cedar Park, Texas.

Linda G. Alvarado, president, Alvarado Construction, Denver.

Erlinda P. Archuleta, regional unit director, Colorado education department, Denver.

Cecilia Preciado Burciaga, associate dean, California State University, Monterey Bay, Seaside, Calif.

George Castro, associate dean, San Jose State University, San Jose, Calif.

Darlene Chavira Chavez, teacher, Wakefield Middle School, Tucson, Ariz.

David J. Cortiella, president, Latino Professional Network, Dorchester, Mass.

Miriam Cruz, president, Equity Research Corp., Washington.

Juliet V. Garcia, president, University of Texas at Brownsville, Brownsville, Texas.

Jose Gonzalez, InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Maria Hernandez, president, National Diversity Concepts, Washington.

Sonia Hernandez, chief of policy and special assistant, California education department, Sacramento, Calif.

Martin J. Koldyke, chairman, Frontenac Co., Chicago.

Guillermo Linares, City Council member, New York City.

Cipriano Munoz, science coordinator, William Taft High School, San Antonio.

Eduardo Padron, president, Miami-Dade Community College, Miami.

Janice Petrovich, education and culture division, Ford Foundation, New York City.

Gloria Rodriguez, president, Avance Family Support and Education, San Antonio.

Waldemar Rojas, superintendent of schools, San Francisco.

Isaura Santiago, president, Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College, New York City.

John Phillip Santos, director, program development, WNET-TV, New York City.

Samuel Vigil, president, Luna Vocational Technical Institute, Las Vegas, N.M.

Diana Wasserman, member, Broward County school board, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Ruben Zacarias, deputy superintendent of schools, Los Angeles.

SOURCE: White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.

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