If ever there was an elected official who should be modeling full transparency and good financial practices, it's the county superintendent of schools.
As administrator of the county Office of Education, the superintendent oversees schooling for students in the juvenile justice system and teen mothers, teacher training programs, and curriculum development and technology assistance for districts.
But the superintendent also has a key responsibility to oversee finances of the 18 school districts in the county, to sound alarms when one is heading for a financial cliff or unrealistically addressing its accounting. For that reason, the superintendent must lead by fiscal example.
Under Superintendent Sheila Jordan, the Alameda County Office of Education has a prudent general fund balance of about $23.6 million, but also faces significantly increasing pension costs in the next few years.
Meanwhile, Jordan has failed to adequately address the approximately $6.5 million unfunded liability for workers' retiree health benefits. By failing to place the minimum payments in a trust fund, the office continues to allow that debt to grow.
With Jordan preparing to retire, the election of her successor provides an opportunity for voters to choose someone who is prepared to address the financial challenges ahead.
Of the five candidates running, Pleasanton school board Trustee Jeff Bowser clearly demonstrates the best comprehension. A former teacher and assistant principal, he headed a 1990s county Office of Education program aimed at bringing Internet access and technology to schools.
He went on to technology work for the private sector while serving on the school board, and thus brings an excellent mix of business and education acumen that should serve him well as superintendent.
Meanwhile, Jordan has been grooming Associate Superintendent Karen Monroe to replace her. But the anointed successor hasn't mastered the details of her office's budget as well as we would expect.
While all of the other candidates -- former Assistant Superintendent Naomi Eason, San Lorenzo school Trustee Helen Foster and San Leandro Councilwoman Ursula Reed -- have education experience, none seem ready for the financial responsibilities of the job.
As the budget backstop for school districts, the superintendent should be setting a stellar example. That means not only responsibly paying off debt, but also full public transparency.
We were surprised to find that the office's budget was not available on its website. We were first told to review paper copies either in Hayward or at the Oakland main library. Only after we pressed and complained did the office post the budget on its website like most local government agencies.
Clearly change is needed.