IN AN attempted power grab, a majority of the Contra Costa County Board of Education is making moves to take away the essential independence of the county superintendent of schools. This crazy idea was previously rejected by voters and it must be stopped again.
For that reason, we endorse Ellen Elster and incumbents Glenn Ruley and Daniel Borsuk for the county Board of Education on Nov. 2.
The five-member county Board of Education hears appeals of local school district decisions on student expulsions and inter-district transfers. It also sets policy for the county Office of Education, an agency that runs occupational training programs, special education for handicapped children and schooling for incarcerated juveniles and adults.
The independently elected county superintendent of schools, currently Joe Ovick, administers the office. The superintendent also has another key responsibility, perhaps his most important: Reviewing and approving the budgets of the local school districts. He is the first warning bell when school districts teeter on the fiscal edge. In that capacity, Ovick operates independently of the five elected board members.
That's as it should be. The financial review is a critical function that should be separated from the politics of an elected board. Ovick is directly accountable to the voters, just as, say, the county auditor answers directly to the electorate.
But some Board of Education trustees are making moves to make the superintendent their appointment, rather than the selection of the voters. It's an idea that 78 percent of county voters rejected in 1978. A majority of the trustees advocate putting the issue before voters again in 2014. With the county Office of Education running smoothly, thanks mainly to Ovick, this attempted power grab has caught our attention and guided our endorsements for three seats on the county Board of Education.
In Area 2 (Crockett, Hercules, Martinez, Pacheco, Rodeo, and parts of Bay Point, Concord, Kensington, Lafayette, Orinda, Pinole, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill and Richmond), trustee Michele Foster, a retired professor of education appointed in November 2009 to fill a board vacancy, is standing for election for the first time. She is challenged by Elster, who worked in the Office of Education for 34 years and understands the importance of the superintendent's independence. Foster is backing the plan to put it up for another vote.
In Area 4 (Blackhawk, Clayton, Danville, Diablo, San Ramon, and parts of Alamo, Antioch, Bay Point, Concord, Pittsburg and Walnut Creek), incumbent Glenn Ruley seeks a fourth term. He supports the superintendent's independence, as does his opponent, Richard Asadoorian, a retired school administrator. Asadoorian, who moved to Contra Costa about 15 months ago, offers no good reason to replace Ruley, who has done a good job.
In Area 5 (Bethel Island, Brentwood, Byron, Discovery Bay, Knightsen, Oakley, and parts of Antioch, Bay Point and Pittsburg), incumbent Daniel Borsuk, seeking a sixth term, supports the superintendent's independence. His opponent, Cynthia Ruehlig, does not.
Her candidacy has other problems, as well. If elected, she says, she would not recuse herself from hearing expulsion appeals from the Antioch school board, where her husband sits as a trustee. It's a huge conflict, yet Ruehlig doesn't see it. Also, Ruehlig misrepresents herself as a "nonprofit administrator." While she spends a few hours a week volunteering for a foundation that raises money for music programs in the Antioch schools, her paying job is as a clerk for the county.