Arnold vs the state constitution

Evelyn B Stacey:

In his most recent weekly radio address, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced proposals to eliminate the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction and to reconsider the roles of the Board of Equalization and Franchise Tax Board as budget saving measures.  Although the ideas aren’t new, his suggestions ignited a new debate Tuesday afternoon.

“In California we elect a Superintendent of Public Instruction, but why?” he asked. “We already have a Secretary of Education and State Board of Education. Why do we need a Superintendent of Education?”

Schwarzenegger is correct in that there are three offices dealing with the oversight of the state’s public school system. But there is one slight hurdle he first has to jump over before he can get rid of the  Superintendent.

“The position is mandated by the California constitution,” wrote California Watch reporter Louis Freedberg on his blog.

The original intent of creating a State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) was that the officer would be directly elected by the people to oversee the public schools.  The job was put into the constitution to solidify constituent control of public education.

Currently, the California Department of Education (CDE) is in charge of nearly 1,000 school districts, more than 9,000 schools and an agency with 35 branches and departments. The oversight further extends to the constitutional, governor-appointed State Board of Education. That’s a board of nine members who vote on policies that the Superintendent would implement. California is one of only 13 states that directly elects the department leader; all other states’ chiefs are appointed.

Eliminating the Superintendent position would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.  Then, in order to amend the Constitution, it would be have to be put on the ballot for voter approval.

“Don’t hold your breath for that to happen,” Freedberg commented in his blog. Passing a budget also requires a two-thirds vote and just like “the last 25 years, [this year] California will begin the fiscal year without a budget,” Schwarzenegger said.

“A much more efficient way to save money would be for Schwarzenegger to abolish the Office of the Secretary of Education, a position in the governor’s cabinet,” CDE spokesperson Hilary McLean said. The Office of the Secretary of Education (OSE) was added less than 20 years ago during the term of former Governor Pete Wilson. A Secretary of Education is appointed by the governor to implement his goals in education and work as a liaison with the CDE and the legislature. The governor’s most recent appointment in February marks the fifth Secretary of Education since 2003.

The governor made one other effort at streamlining. “We also have a two completely separate tax collection agencies: the Board of Equalization that collects sales tax and the Franchise Tax Board that collects corporate and individual tax,” Schwarzenegger said. “So completely unnecessary — why have two?”

Of course, there is a similar constitutional concern for this suggestion as well.  The State Board of Equalization was enshrined in the constitution in 1879  and the Franchise Tax Board was added in 1950 to replace both the Franchise Tax Commissioner for California’s bank and Corporation Franchise Tax Act.

In the mean time, the budget debate remains at a standstill.

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