SACRAMENTO — State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig refused to give the state Board of Education greater authority over educational policy Friday, after contending that board President Joseph D. Carrabino and others "went to the FBI and talked about how to put me in jail."
The resulting exchange at the monthly board meeting was the most acrimonious in the power struggle between Honig and some board members that has lasted for nine months.
Honig said the visit to the FBI was one of a "whole series of attempts the board leadership has made to try and get me."
When Carrabino was asked, after the meeting, if he had gone to the FBI with information about Honig, the board president replied: "I remember vaguely going to a meeting but I don't know who was there. I go to a lot of meetings and I don't know all the people there."
Both state and federal sources later said that there was such a meeting but it was determined that there was no violation of federal law. It could not be determined what the meeting was about.
Honig complained that the board, under Carrabino's leadership, "has become a vehicle for denigrating the department (the state Department of Education), tearing us down" and also has been "abusing department employees with bullying tactics."
The board majority has "very intentionally created a hostile, antagonistic relationship with the superintendent," said Honig. He also criticized student board member Raga Ramachandran, a 16-year-old recent high school graduate, and others who have voted with Carrabino for being "part of the majority that allowed this to happen."
Board member Peter G. Mehas, who resigned from the board later in the day, told Honig, "I resent the fact that because I have a difference of opinion with you over governance, you characterize that as a personal, political agenda."
Carrabino then raised the issue of the Quality Education Project, a parent involvement program run by Nancy Honig, the superintendent's wife, that is being investigated by Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren. Nancy Honig has been criticized for operating QEP out of the Honigs' San Francisco home and questions have been raised about Department of Education "seed money" that went to several school districts to start QEP programs.
When Carrabino said to Honig, "Bill, you have to face up to your indiscretions, you and your family," the superintendent turned to the board president, who was sitting beside him, and replied angrily, "Don't start making personal statements about my family."
Honig then said to Mehas, "That's what I mean when I say there's a personal political agenda that has nothing to do with education and, by voting with the board leadership, you are supporting this kind of attack."
Later in the meeting, Honig distributed copies of a letter to Carrabino in which the superintendent refused to grant the board much of the authority it has been seeking since last September.
Honig said he would not agree to give the board authority over the department's budget or the right to approve line-item budget transfers or personal contracts worth more than $20,000.
Honig also said he would not allow the board to hire its own staff members, independent of the superintendent, and would not allow the Department of Education to pay for a board attorney.
Earlier, the board announced it has hired the Sacramento law firm of Zumbrun, Best & Findley to represent board members.
In a press statement, Carrabino said, "When the board adopts a policy, the superintendent is required by law to carry it out," but Honig "refuses to recognize many of our policies. The board has therefore obtained the services of legal counsel to assist in delineating the board's rights and duties."
Carrabino said later he did not know where the money would come from to pay the lawyers.
Mehas announced his resignation after serving six months because the attorney general has determined that he cannot serve as Fresno County schools superintendent of schools and a member of the state board.
Honig and Joseph Symkowick, chief counsel for the Department of Education, have insisted since Mehas was named to the board by former Gov. George Deukmejian that he could not hold both jobs, but Mehas disagreed and has kept his seat until now.
Since Mehas and Ramachandran generally have sided with Carrabino in the dispute with Honig and there have been several close votes, their departures may deprive Carrabino of a majority on the 11-member board.
Gov. Pete Wilson will appoint replacements for Mehas, Ramachandran and a third member who resigned earlier.