SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian and state schools Supt. Bill Honig clashed Wednesday over the governor's suggestion that Californians should rethink signing over their tax rebates to the schools.
For the second-straight day, Deukmejian challenged the notion of endorsing the rebate checks to schools at a time when some district superintendents and teachers are receiving hefty pay raises.
Deukmejian, in interviews with television reporters in Los Angeles on Wednesday, said it struck him as "strange" that schools would appeal for rebate funds to prop them up "when I see, for example, increasing salaries for school administrators, school superintendents, quite a number of (whom are) getting more in salary than even the governor receives and yet they have less responsibility than the governor does."
10% Raise for Teachers
He pointed out that teachers also are getting healthy raises. The Los Angeles teachers union, the governor said, "recently negotiated a 10% increase in salary, whereas state employees only received a 4% increase."
The dispute marked the first public rupture between Deukmejian and Honig since they reached an apparent truce Sept. 17 in their long dispute over Honig's charge that the governor's state budget short-changed public education.
Strongly supported by Honig, schools throughout the state have appealed to Californians to pass along their rebate checks to public education rather than spend the cash on themselves.
Honig and Democratic legislators were on the losing end of a protracted battle with Deukmejian last spring and summer over how to divvy up a $1.1-billion budget surplus the state couldn't legally spend on its own programs. Deukmejian favored rebating the sum to income taxpayers, while Honig and others supported giving it to financially hard-pressed schools.
Not a Recommendation
In interviews on both Tuesday and Wednesday, the governor did not explicitly tell taxpayers not to give their rebates to the schools. (The rebates range from $32 for a single taxpayer to $232 for a married couple.)
But Deukmejian said teachers and others displayed a "strange" way of expressing need for more money for materials and programs "when, instead, they take that money they have and they opted out for increasing salaries. . . ." He said California teachers are the fifth-highest-paid in the nation.
Honig, vacationing in Israel, said through a spokeswoman that he found it "disappointing that the governor has taken this kind of negative stand against the rebate going to schools."
Spokeswoman Susan Lange said Honig also was puzzled because Deukmejian had said earlier that "he felt citizens had the right to choose whether that money went to education or not. He didn't seem to have any problems with education being a recipient. Now, it seems, he has become actually opposed to that."
Gubernatorial press secretary Kevin Brett insisted, however, that Deukmejian was not opposed to the schools receiving the refund checks but was raising the issue of education asking for the rebates when significant pay raises were being implemented.
Lange defended raises for superintendents, contending that they deserved "good salaries" commensurate with their responsibilities of managing vast systems that educate California children. She equated top-level school administrators with high-level corporate executives.
Deukmejian, who is paid $85,000 annually, cited, for example, a newly approved 6% increase for Sacramento schools Supt. Keith Larrick, whose salary will rise from $88,000 a year to $93,280. Los Angeles schools chief Leonard Britton receives $150,000 a year.
Honig's office said it believes that most school districts have mounted campaigns for taxpayers to turn over all or part of their refunds, although it has kept no record of participants. For taxpayers who itemize deductions, the contribution is tax deductible, Lange said.
Lange said Honig recently issued guidelines to school officials throughout the state for seeking the rebates, noting that contributors must be given a receipt. To make the contribution, a taxpayer signs the rebate check and then must endorse it to a school district or an individual school by name.
Lange said Honig suggested that a donor specify that the contribution is intended to benefit a specific category, such as library books or computer and science equipment.