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Riordan Considering Second Post

Already the governor's secretary for education, he expresses interest in adding the position of Board of Education president.

November 20, 2003|Duke Helfand | Times Staff Writer

Richard Riordan, California's newly appointed secretary for education, is exploring the possibility of also becoming president of the State Board of Education as a way to further his and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's influence over school policy and to press their reform ideas.

The former Los Angeles mayor recently discussed the concept of holding the two posts with several high-ranking state education officials, including the board's current president, Reed Hastings, who said he told Riordan that "it would be a great idea."

It remains unclear whether Riordan could legally hold both positions without conflicts of interest. A close advisor to Riordan said the secretary is waiting for a legal opinion before asking Schwarzenegger to appoint him to the second post.

Riordan acknowledged that he is looking at the dual positions but has not made up his mind. "I've had really top people tell me it's a great idea. I've had top people tell me it's not a great idea," he said.

The main attraction would be to streamline the bureaucracy and "empower the governor," he said.

Echoing Schwarzenegger's campaign promises, Riordan said he wants to foster more local control of schools.

Riordan hopes to accomplish that partly by giving principals greater authority over budgets and personnel, a departure from the top-down education reforms promoted by the last two governors.

"I don't think that coming up with mandates from Washington or Sacramento does anything. There's no such thing as a silver bullet," Riordan said. "It's management, management, management. It's power and responsibility at the local level that changes things."

A Schwarzenegger spokesman would not comment on the possibility of Riordan joining the state education board because, he said, Riordan had not yet raised the subject with the governor.

"The governor appointed Mayor Riordan to be secretary [for] education because of his respect for his long-standing efforts to improve education for the children of California," said spokesman Vincent Sollitto. "He certainly looks forward to recommendations, policy proposals and advice that he will provide."

Schwarzenegger can quickly fill up to seven slots on the 11-member board that are either vacant; filled by members, including President Hastings, whose terms expire in January; or by those who were appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis but not yet confirmed by the Senate. The board members choose their own president every year, but gubernatorial appointees rarely go against a governor's wishes on such positions.

Hastings said the issue of Riordan joining the board came up in a recent meeting at the secretary's Brentwood home.

Hastings said he asked Riordan about Sacramento scuttlebutt that the former mayor wanted to be board president. Riordan said he was thinking about it and asked Hastings his opinion, according to Hastings.

"I encouraged him to do it," said Hastings, an Internet entrepreneur who was a major contributor to Davis. "It would be advantageous for the administration to have a single focal point on education, which would then be him. I think it would be a great idea."

Hastings said he did not think that the dual posts would present any conflicts of interest because they both help create policy. "I don't see conflict between the roles. I see alignment between the roles," said Hastings, who hopes to be reappointed in January to the board by Schwarzenegger.

The secretary for education is a full-time Cabinet-level executive appointed by the governor, and is the governor's chief advisor on education policy and his education liaison with the Legislature.

Board of Education members, who must be confirmed by the state Senate to their four-year terms, are unpaid part-timers. They meet every other month to set education policy for California's 8,000 public schools, such as approving textbooks and deciding to delay the state's high school exit exam.

The situation is further complicated because the state also has an elected superintendent of public instruction, Jack O'Connell, who oversees the state Department of Education and implements the policies of the state education board and the Legislature.

O'Connell said that it would be difficult for Riordan to fill both posts, given the demands of each.

"Being an effective secretary is a full-time job," O'Connell said. "I think it would be a real challenge."

Riordan's idea of joining the state board is a variation on a well-worn theme.

Lawmakers, hoping to clear up the confusing lines of authority in the education bureaucracy, have proposed turning the state education board into an advisory panel for the secretary for education, who then would have more policy power. That change, if enacted, would take effect in 2006.

What remains uncertain, however, is whether Riordan can legally join the board and become its president.

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