Board Seeks To Wrest Power Over Policies, Budget From Honig

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The California state board of education has taken another step in its escalating battle with Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig by hiring a lawyer to represent it in a dispute both sides say probably will end up in court.

The move last month followed the board's decision in September to assert its authority over the state education department's policies, budget, and key appointments.

A majority of board members, who were appointed by Mr. Honig's long-time nemesis, Gov. George Deukmejian, say they are simply laying claim to several powers that were vested in them by the state constitution and laws but have been usurped by Mr. Honig and his predecessors.

"In a nutshell, we really have in California a czar of education with no checks and balances on this huge expenditure of monies," the board's president, Joseph D. Carrabino, said last week.

But Mr. Honig last week said the board's actions "smacked of a coup'' and that the allegations of power-grabbing on his part is "political rhetoric." He said he was attempting to reconcile his differences with the board, but asserted that some board members seem determined to force a conflict and "basically want to run" the education department.

Specifically, the board has said it is reclaiming the power to review all the department's policy statements and annual operating budget, and to adopt its own operating budget, which would be increased this year from $600,000 to $900,000.

The board also has asserted the right to appoint a deputy superintendent, three associate superintendents, and an acting secretary who will act as the board's executive officer when the superintendent leaves the state.

Mr. Honig's argument that the board majority's actions were politiy motivated was echoed last week by Kenneth L. Peters, a retired superintendent of the Beverly Hills schools and a member of the board. Mr. Peters, a Republican, was in the minority when the board voted 8 to 2 at its September meeting to assert the budgetary and appointment powers it claims.

Describing the board as a whole as "strongly Republican," Mr. Peters said the other members took up the policy changes too quickly and without advance notice, and seemed to be deliberately trying to catch Mr. Honig off guard.

But Mr. Carrabino denies any political motivation in his challenge to Mr. Honig's power.

"You don't have to be a Democrat or a Republican to see the waste and dropout rates," he said, asserting that the policies were approved because recent appointments have given the board "a group that has the gumption" to challenge Mr. Honig.

Mr. Carrabino said the board's actions were spurred by a report issued in February by the state's Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy, or "Little Hoover Commission."

The commission concluded that the superintendent had circumvented the state's regulatory process by issuing without board approval policy guidelines with the effect of regulations. It also said the superiority of the board to the superintendent should be validated by giving the board approval authority over the state's proposed education budget.

Mr. Carrabino said the board also needs control over its own budget because the superintendent has not funded it adequately to hire the personnel to fulfill its functions.

The board hired Howard L. Dickstein, general counsel to the commission, to represent it against Mr. Honig. The superintendent agreed to allow the move, however, only on the condition that Mr. Dickstein's services be limited to the argument over specific constitutional issues and that he be prevented from going on "a fishing mission."

Mr. Honig, meanwhile, last week called the Little Hoover Commission report an inflammatory political document filled with unsubstantiated charges and asserted his right to continue to issue policy guidelines.

William L. Ruckeyser, special assistant to Mr. Honig, said the board has erred in its legal arguments because statutes enacted with the creation of the state department in 1921 made the superintendent the chief officer of the agency and the board its appendage.

Vol. 10, Issue 10

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