MONTEREY — Gov. George Deukmejian gave a stern lecture to more than 500 school superintendents Wednesday, saying the educators must provide stronger leadership to California schools.
"Too many California children graduate from our schools unable to read, or to write, or to think, or to be able to take on entry-level jobs. Your leadership can make a difference," Deukmejian said during a luncheon speech at the 14th annual meeting of the Assn. of California School Administrators.
The governor, his voice rising at times, also told the educators that their leadership could help curb the dropout problem and drug use among students.
Deukmejian singled out one educator for special praise--George McKenna, principal of virtually all-minority George Washington High School in South-Central Los Angeles. The governor said that before McKenna took over the school in 1980, two-thirds of the students dropped out before graduating. Today, the dropout rate "has been dramatically reduced" and 70% of the graduating students are going on to college, Deukmejian said.
"There are other George McKennas in California's school system--but we need many more," Deukmejian said.
Noting that he is proposing a record level of financial support for public schools in his $44.3-billion budget for the 1988-89 fiscal year, Deukmejian told the superintendents that "all the money in the world" will not make a difference in the schools without leadership.
When he finished, Deukmejian was strongly applauded by the educators, a reaction in large part to the governor's proposed 7% increase, counting state and local funds, for spending on public schools in the coming fiscal year.
Last year, when Deukmejian proposed a budget that did not enable schools to maintain their purchasing power, he was widely criticized by educators, particularly state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig. Honig, who has made peace with Deukmejian, was not at the convention Wednesday.
Expressing a common view, William Berrier, of the San Dieguito Union High School District near San Diego, said Deukmejian's budget "is not cause for dancing in the streets, but it is certainly better than last year's."
As for the remarks about leadership, Ronald Stewart, superintendent of the Contra Costa County Office of Education, said Deukmejian "came through very strongly. I think overall the group took it well."
George A. Dibs, superintendent of the 19,000-student Ontario-Montclair Elementary School District, said, "(Deukmejian) said he is delivering the goods in dollars; we need to deliver the goods in performance, and leadership makes a difference."
History of Tight Budgets
Larry Lucas, superintendent of the 20,000-student Chino Unified School District, said that even with the budget increase this year, tight budgets over the last decade have contributed to many of the problems Deukmejian is talking about. He said that even bigger budget increases are needed to restore quality to the schools.
"There is a big difference in the expectations that are there and the funding that is coming with it. We are still being shortchanged. It is unrealistic to expect the significant reforms that are on the governor's agenda with the fiscal support that we have," Lucas said.
Deukmejian wants to raise the academic performance of students, reduce the dropout rate, improve teacher training and send more California high school graduates to college. The governor and Honig have agreed to work together to push legislation that, among other things, would improve the financial practices of school districts and revamp standardized tests to track students' performance.