Local school districts spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to educate kids, all under the watchful eye of the county office of education. It can force districts to rewrite unsound budgets and even stop districts from paying people. But now, this financial watchdog’s bite is poised to become as painless as its bark.

Thanks to the state budget passed in Sacramento last week, county offices of education will lose their power to directly influence what districts are doing with taxpayer money.

“Teachers unions cheered the move for giving more budget power to elected school boards,” Emily Alpert writes. “Financial hawks have lambasted it as a reckless way to lessen oversight of stressed school districts.”

So will districts feel free to skip toward a financially unfettered future? It’s not clear. Some may be thrilled to no longer have to be told what to do by often-cautious county officials. But a couple of district superintendents said they’ll still do things the old way and get guidance.

I-5 Won’t Carry as Wide a Load

In a victory for supporters of mass transit, state officials announced that the often-congested Interstate 5 in North County will widen only to four more lanes, not the expected six.

Fletcher Bucks GOP on Gay Education Bill

Local legislator Nathan Fletcher, who’s running for mayor of San Diego, was the only Republican member of the Assembly to support a bill to require school textbooks to teach about the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. If the governor signs the bill, the instruction will be added to textbooks along with instruction about people with disabilities; they’re already required to discuss a variety of minority groups.

“It is not yet clear exactly what would be included in textbooks and, if the governor signs the bill, it would be several years until that is known,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. “The process for updating textbooks statewide has been put on hold until the 2015-16 school year because of the state’s budget situation.”

Fletcher’s vote could boost his bona fides as a gay-friendly Republican in a mayoral race that already includes two high-profile gay Republicans (Councilman Carl DeMaio and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis) and Rep. Bob Filner, a Democrat who supports gay rights. Last year, the ex-Marine made an impassioned speech against the military’s don’t ask/don’t tell policy, saying “there is nothing in someone’s sexual orientation that affects their love of country, their patriotism, or their commitment to their fellow service members and our great nation.”

• Fletcher made a big splash in the news when he helped push through new laws regarding sex offenders in the wake of the murders of two girls in North County, but his more recent efforts on that front haven’t been as successful, reports CityBeat in a summary of what local legislators have been up to: “His measure to set up email alerts for residents when a sex-offender changes his or her address is nowhere near the Assembly floor. He also co-authored a bill that would require registered sex offenders to disclose their online handles. Opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the bill failed in committee.”

• In an editorial, CityBeat — which has been positively besotted by Fletcher’s youthful charms — says he’s actually quite beatable at this point by the other three major candidates and needs “to make a big splash” to stay competitive beyond the June primary. The paper says it likes Filner but hopes former Councilwoman Donna Frye will jump in the race.

Reporters across the city are holding their breath. A Dumanis-Filner-Frye-Fletcher-DeMaio mayoral smackdown would basically be the most awesome thing ever.

Another False Claim on 401(k) Plan

A local labor council is no fan of a proposed ballot measure that would convert many new city employees from pensions to 401(k) plans: “The supporters are admitting that the short-term costs outweigh the savings even if the measure is found to be legal,” a press release says. But the claim is false. Supporters aren’t admitting that at all, and they actually say other savings will make up for the short-term costs.

No Budget for Education’s High Hopes

San Diego schools are embracing a new plan to help black students, including both African-Americans and African immigrants, but the $3.5 million project doesn’t have any funding. Still, the schools will be able to implement some parts of the program, such as single-gender classes at one campus — that’s thought to possibly help lower disciplinary problems among African-American boys — and better coordination of policies about discipline.

By the way, that’s just one of many stories affecting residents of City Heights that appear on the Speak City Heights Facebook page and the Speak City Heights website. They’re a collaboration of KPBS, voiceofsandiego.org, The AjA Project and Media Arts Center San Diego, which is aimed at amplifying the voices of City Heights residents.

• San Diego schools are supposed to hire locally as it goes about building and renovating local schools thanks to a $2.1 billion construction bond. But only about a third of workers have come from the big chunk of the city covered by the district, well below the 70 percent goal. However, the district has dramatically exceeded its goals when it comes to hiring firms owned by women, disabled veterans and minorities.

Somehow These Numbers Add Up

Five actors are playing 50 characters — yes, 50 — in “Peer Gynt” at La Jolla Playhouse. We’ve got more numbers including the heads on the Troll King (three) and the length of the original play (five hours, now mercifully reduced to two).

Whoooo’s Back? The Owls, that’s Who

The world-famous San Marcos owls named Molly and McGee have apparently returned to the birdhouse and the live video feed that drew millions of visitors last year.

From Silents to Talkies to the Blacklist

Frederica Sagor Maas, a longtime Hollywood screenwriter in both the silent and talkie eras — she put words into the mouths of stars like Clara “The It Girl” Bow, Betty Grable and Greta Garbo — had an 111th birthday in La Mesa yesterday. She’s said to be the 18th oldest person in the United States.

The Jewish Daily Forward has a stunning photo of her as a young woman — the eyes have it — and notes that she and her husband had to leave screenwriting around the time of the Blacklist, when Congress harassed alleged Communists in Hollywood. She appeared on NPR in 1999 at the age of 99, talking about her memoir.

It’s not clear from the news coverage how she ended up in La Mesa, which was actually a hot spot for movie makers a century ago during the silent film era.

She reportedly credits her longevity to getting plenty of rest. In her honor, I’ll take an extra-long nap today. And tomorrow. And the next day…

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga

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