SACRAMENTO — Delaine Eastin is running for re-election to the officially nonpartisan office of superintendent of public instruction, but it’s clear that members of both parties are taking sides.
Eastin has been featured in a statewide television ad paid for by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Al Checchi, who signed Eastin’s pledge to raise California school funding to the national average within five years.
Republicans have been aiding Gloria Matta Tuchman, an Orange County first-grade teacher who finished fifth against Eastin four years ago. This time, Tuchman is buoyed by being co-chair of an initiative that would end most bilingual education programs, Proposition 227.
Because the office is nonpartisan, and the office seekers run without a party designation on the ballot, a candidate can win outright in June by getting a majority of the votes. Otherwise, the two top vote-getters have a runoff in November.
“I’m hoping to win in June,” said Eastin, who wants to duplicate a feat last accomplished by her predecessor in the office, Bill Honig. Tuchman also has her eye on the June prize.
“I know it will either be the two of us in a runoff after June,
or maybe I will surprise everybody and win it with 51 percent,” said Tuchman.
The office of the superintendent of public instruction was weakened when a lawsuit filed against Honig increased the authority of the state Board of Education, whose 11 members are appointed by the governor.
Eastin has clashed with the board on a number of issues, including the adoption of new standards for schools and the testing of students. Board President Yvonne Larsen of San Diego reprimanded Eastin last year for endorsing President Clinton’s national testing proposal, saying the board speaks for California on policy matters.
“I hope with a new governor the board will relax a little bit,”
said Eastin. She continues to use the office as a bully pulpit to present her personal views to the Legislature and the public.
Eastin’s pledge to raise spending on California’s schools to the national average has been signed by more than a dozen legislators. California ranks 37th among states in school spending, about $1,000 per student less than the national average. Closing the gap would cost $6 billion.
“I’m for getting to the national average even if it takes a tax increase,” Eastin said. “You can’t have world-class schools on a Third-World budget.”
Tuchman said schools need a back-to-basics approach and testing to ensure that students are making progress.
“I do not feel we need to increase people’s taxes to put more money into education until we are accountable for what we are doing,” said Tuchman.
A more crucial difference between the two is Proposition 227.
The June initiative, sponsored by businessman Ron Unz, would eliminate most bilingual education programs that teach students in their native languages for up to seven years.
The initiative, which is leading in the polls, would place students who speak limited English into a sheltered English immersion program, normally lasting about a year. Tuchman and her colleagues at Taft Elementary School in Santa Ana say they have been successfully using a sheltered immersion program for years.
“I think it’s vital that whoever runs and wins implements Proposition 227, and Delaine will not,” said Tuchman. “That was a very strong determining factor in my decision to run.”
Eastin is a strong backer of bilingual education. But she has carried out policy she disagrees with — for example, suing a San Francisco school district that declined to give statewide tests in English to students who are still learning the language.
Although Proposition 227 has given Tuchman more public visibility, neither she nor Eastin believe that the initiative will be a decisive factor in their race for the office of state schools chief.
“It is possible to have a principled position that differs from the majority and still win the election,” said Eastin.
Eastin, 50, said she plans to run her own television ads before the election on June 2. Tuchman, 56, said she expects to raise enough money to send out mailers and place ads on radio and cable television.
Both Eastin and Tuchman have been traveling and making campaign appearances.
Three other candidates, who lack funds and connections, are mounting smaller campaigns.
Miles Everett of Windsor learned how lonely the campaign trail can be last week when he rented a hall in Sacramento for a news conference and only one reporter showed up.
Everett, 66, a former college professor with a doctorate in history from UC Berkeley, has a detailed analysis of what is wrong with the public school system. He thinks that television is undermining the motivation of children to learn.
Like several other candidates, Everett is hoping that a new development since the 1994 elections, the Internet, will help him reach voters. One of his two web sites is: www.sonic.net/~miles
Barbara Carpenter of La Jolla, a former president of the San Diego County Board of Education, said she only plans to spend a few thousand dollars on her campaign. Her web site is:
Carpenter, 62, who has a doctorate in education, said Republicans urged her not to run in an attempt to clear the field for Tuchman. She said she developed a “burning desire” to change the educational system after doing a paper on inner-city schools.
“I’m sure the Republicans think I am a spoiler,” said Carpenter.
“I’m really running as a reformer because I want to change the system.”
Mark Isler of Van Nuys, a businessman and former teacher, is another candidate who plans to spend little money. He said that if a candidate cannot spend $1 million or more to reach a statewide audience, there is no point in scrambling to raise a small amount like $50,000.
“Too many students graduate who cannot read, write, spell and fill out a job application,” he said.
Isler, 51, said he has been the host of a cable television interview show, “Saving the American Dream,” that has run weekly for the past three years in the Los Angeles area. He is the only one of the five candidates for superintendent of public instruction who does not have a web site.
Eastin’s web site is: www.eastin98.com
Tuchman’s web site is: www.gmt4spi.com