Reaction on Successor to Honig

What educators say about governor's nominee for schools chief

California educators — including teachers, bilingual advocates and school voucher proponents — viewed yesterday’s nomination of state Senator Marian Bergeson with a mixture of caution and optimism.

Governor Wilson chose the Newport Beach Republican to replace state schools chief Bill Honig, who was convicted January 29 of violating state conflict-of-interest laws.

”She been very active on raising standards for quality of teachers,” said Michael Kirst, co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education and a former state Board of Education president. ”She brings a good perspective on how local problems relate to state policy.”

Bergeson is considered by many public educators to understand the needs of local districts, because she was a school board member in Southern California and has also served as president of the California School Boards Association. She is considered to be supportive of the state Department of Education’s broad school reforms in the past decade under Honig.

The California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, gave her a positive rating yesterday, calling her ”unquestionably well-informed on school issues.”

Yet she is an unknown quantity to many, particularly in Northern California. After 10 years of Honig, public educators expect a superintendent to fight as hard as Honig did for school financing.

”Whoever has to step into his shoes is probably going to need more than one set of feet,” quipped San Francisco Superintendent Bill Rojas.

Many are concerned that Bergeson may not measure up. She voted last year to support Wilson’s $ 2.2 billion cut to schools, for example. And some educators fear that Bergeson will ignore the needs of students who are poor, are members of ethnic minority groups, or who speak little English.

”My major concern is the degree of her commitment to equity and access issues, particularly for underrepresented and underserved students in our schools,” said Linda Wong, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Achievement Council, which tries to improve educational opportunities for those groups.

Advocates of bilingual education also expressed concern about the senator’s commitment to their cause. They said about 20 percent of the state’s students speak limited English, yet Bergeson opposed a bill last year that would have set guidelines for bilingual education. The bill passed and was vetoed by Wilson.

”We are guardedly optimistic about Marian Bergeson,” said Steve Hopcraft, a spokesman for the California Association for Bilingual Education, adding that Bergeson’s daughter is a bilingual education teacher.

Another area of interest to educators is Bergeson’s opposition to the controversial voucher initiative, which will be on the state ballot in 1994. She has said she does not support the initiative to allow taxpayers’ money to pay for tuition at private and religious schools. But she sponsored another, unsuccessful, bill to allow tax money to pay for private schools only.

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