Wednesday, July 06, 2005 | Picture this: A California with an education system that other states envy, a balanced and fair budget and legislators that are chosen by their constituents; not the other way around. This could be a reality. In fact, there is only one thing standing in the way: the special interests that control Sacramento.

The state of California is in critical condition. There are many changes that need to be made and the initiatives supported by the governor are the first important step.

The governor is working overtime to improve California’s public school system. Teaching in California is a highly respected profession, but in order to ensure that we have the best schools possible for our children, we must first have the best teachers possible.

Currently, principals and school districts are virtually powerless to dismiss tenured teachers who are performing poorly. This is not acceptable.

For example, in the San Bernardino School District, there was a teacher who called students derogatory names, showed R-rated movies and even sent a child out to her car to retrieve a butcher knife. And was she fired for her actions? No. Due to tenure regulations, the school actually paid her $25,000 in exchange for her resignation.

Under the Put Kids First Act, teachers must have satisfactory reviews for five consecutive years before receiving tenure. The current system only requires two. The system must be reformed to help ensure that our kids get the best possible education and the best possible teachers.

Next, we must deal with our unaccountable legislators. The only way that legislators will ever listen to the voters is if they are no longer able to draw their own districts which virtually guarantee their reelection. Under our current gerrymandered legislative maps, districts are drawn in every conceivable shape in order to maximize partisan advantage for incumbents. The Voter Empowerment Act will take redistricting out of the hands of politicians and make them more accountable to the voters. Instead of politicians, a bipartisan, independent panel of three retired judges will draw fair and competitive district lines.

Just as the Voter Empowerment Act restores credibility to the Legislature, the governor supports restoring credibility back to the state budget process. The Live Within Our Means Act forces the Legislature to live by the same basic rule California families live by: Do not spend more than you bring in.

Did you know that California spends $1.10 for every dollar it brings in? Between 1998 and 2004, the Legislature increased overall spending by 44 percent – from $75 billion to $108 billion – even though the state did not have enough money to pay for all that new spending. That is no way for a family to run its budget, it is no way for a small business to operate and it is certainly no way for the nation’s most populous state to do business. Importantly, the initiative will stabilize education funding while protecting it from big cuts in bad economic times. It also, for the first time, creates a firewall to block the state from raiding funds dedicated to local health and social services programs.

The Governor cannot reform Sacramento alone. He needs the help of every Californian who is tired of the backroom deals, tired of the special interests and tired of partisan gridlock. These are simple reforms that will make a huge difference in the way the state is run, the way our children learn and the way that we live from day to day. Californians sent Arnold Schwarzenegger to Sacramento to reform it and I urge you to join him in the fight.

Mark Price is president of the Alpine Union School District Board of Trustees in San Diego County. This piece was provided by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s press office in Sacramento.

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