SAN JOSE — When Gov. George Deukmejian decided to look for minority votes and celebrate his 58th birthday on this city's eastside Friday, it did not hurt that he had paved the way by signing legislation three years ago giving millions of dollars in financial aid to California's low-income school districts.
As a result, appreciative educators and students greeted Deukmejian with a hero's welcome. The grade schoolers gave Deukmejian armfuls of handmade birthday cards, sang "Happy Birthday" and serenaded him with a medley of patriotic songs. Local school administrators and school board members added their names to an endorsement list of nearly 100 top educators supporting the governor's reelection bid this year.
Deukmejian said he was touched by all the attention heaped on him at the Donald J. Meyer School.
"It is a lovely birthday gift and one I am going to remember the rest of my life," the governor declared.
It was also politically useful, the climax to a busy week of campaigning that began with the primary election Tuesday. Well covered by local news media, it offered Deukmejian broad exposure in the heavily Democratic San Jose area.
As a minority party Republican, Deukmejian must capture Democratic and independent votes to defeat general election opponent Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a Democrat, and win reelection in November.
During his birthday visit, Deukmejian concentrated on Latino voters. He followed up his visit to the school, which has an 82% minority enrollment, mostly Latino, with a luncheon speech to several hundred members of the Hispanic Leaders Forum.
The two events pointed up one of Deukmejian's natural advantages over Bradley, the power of incumbency. He told the luncheon audience that his Administration had been good for Latinos, noting that he had appointed 200 Latinos to positions in state government and saying that the state had loaned more than $30 million to small and minority-owned businesses.
At the school, everyone seemed to know what the state had done without Deukmejian telling them. Even though the school funding bill was initiated by the Legislature, Deukmejian received all the credit Friday.
Because of school finance legislation signed by Deukmejian in 1983, low-income school districts like the one visited by the governor have received nearly $200 million in extra state aid, according to William Jefferds, superintendent of the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District.
Jefferds helped organize the California Assn. of Low Wealth School Districts, which has lobbied hard to equalize public school funding between poor districts and those with a rich property tax base, such as nearby Palo Alto.
The administrator said that since Deukmejian signed the legislation, the Alum Rock district has been able to provide each student in the district with his or her own textbook in each class they took. He said that had not been possible before in low-income, high-minority schools like Meyer.
He and other school officials pointed with pride to rising test scores being earned by students at Meyer School, which includes kindergarten through fifth grades.
Jefferds noted that just-published test scores showed eighth graders in Alum Rock school district scoring 10% higher in mathematics than they did in 1985. He said the students, in three years, had gone from the lowest third of those tested to the highest third.