SAN DIEGO — Gov. George Deukmejian, who has spent much of the year battling the education establishment in Sacramento, ventured into friendly territory Tuesday--only to find himself in a sometimes-testy exchange with local educators upset by what they see as insufficient funding from his Administration.
Deukmejian, addressing a "round table" breakfast forum in the wealthy, mostly Republican north San Diego suburb of Rancho Bernardo, was hit with a barrage of questions afterward from school trustees and administrators who told him that their schools are in a "crisis" that can be solved only with more money and freedom from the capital.
But the Republican governor gave the locals the same message he has been delivering to education lobbyists in Sacramento: Do better with what you have.
He said that the state is already spending 54% of its general fund on kindergarten through 12th-grade schools and added that he and the Legislature have agreed on a $4-billion school construction program for the next five years. That ought to be enough for now, he said.
"We know that quality education costs money, but education also means more than just a bigger budget," Deukmejian said. "We need less emphasis on bureaucracy and administration so that we can put more resources into our classrooms themselves."
Schools, he added, need to focus more on "improving student learning and not just simply continually focus on budgets, budgets, budgets."
Deukmejian's visit was part of a Southern California swing that has included fund-raising dinners for Republican lawmakers as well as public speaking engagements like the Rancho Bernardo event, which was attended by about 300 people. Later Tuesday, Deukmejian spoke to a group of Fullerton junior high school students as part of an anti-drug campaign.
In Rancho Bernardo, a conservative enclave that has supported Deukmejian in the past, the governor seemed a little surprised at the intensity of the questions about his education policies. Although the forum was open to all issues and Deukmejian's speech was general in nature, the question-and-answer session that followed was dominated by talk of schools and their problems.
But Deukmejian appeared to enjoy the give-and-take and the chance to defend himself on an issue for which he has taken much criticism.
When he was asked what he was doing to give local districts more control over their own programs, Deukmejian said he favored doing so. But he cautioned that he would go along only if local schools emphasize the basic subjects so that "when young people come out of high school, they don't have to take 'bonehead' English, 'bonehead' math and 'bonehead' science" in college.
"An employer should feel confident when they're hiring this person that at least they're well grounded in the basic subjects," he said. "We hear all the time how that is not the case."
Supt. Bob Reeves of the Poway Unified School District told Deukmejian that his district will have to build 12 schools in the next 10 years and does not have the money to do it. "We have a crisis in school construction," he said.
Sandee Carter, a trustee from the Vista Unified School District, said her district "has children just about coming out of the windows of our classrooms."
"We need some solutions," Reeves said.
But Deukmejian said the school construction issue had been adequately addressed during 1986 when he and legislators agreed to cap fees charged to housing developers to fund schools while at the same time committing the state to issuing $4 billion in bonds to help fund new construction.
Deukmejian would not commit himself when asked if he would support a move to allow schools to raise taxes with a simple majority vote of the people, rather than the two-thirds majority required under current law. The governor has supported such a change for transportation funding.
"I guess we'll just have to see whether that is proposed and how much support there might be for it," he said.
And when a questioner asked about tax incentives for private schools, the governor criticized the public schools for not making themselves more competitive with the private school system.
'Knocking on Your Door'
"I strongly believe . . . that it doesn't do us any good to blame the other fellow for your problems," Deukmejian said. "The best way to use your energy or your resources is to improve what you're doing and come up with a better result or a better product and then people are going to be knocking on your door."
Two hours later in Fullerton, Deukmejian warned students at D. Russell Parks Junior High School that they could become part of a "lost generation of Americans" if they succumb to temptations to use illegal drugs.
The keynote speaker in an hourlong "Just Say No" pep rally, the governor ended what had been a generally upbeat program with a stern lecture about the effects drugs can have on individuals, families, society and the economy.
Deukmejian told the teen-age students that they could be America's future teachers, business people, doctors and politicians. Then, deviating from his prepared text, he added: "But it's not going to happen if you're in jail, is it? It's not going to happen if you're hanging out with the wrong crowd and you're committing crimes in order to raise money to buy drugs. . . . Being in prison is no picnic, I assure you. It's not a place where you want to be."
The country, he told the children, risks losing its status as the "pacesetter" if its workers are unable because of drug abuse to keep up with the country's trading competitors.