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Contributor

Ray Haynes

Mr. Haynes is an Assembly member representing Riverside and Temecula. He serves on the Appropriations and Budget Committees. [go to Assembly Member Haynes website at California Assembly][go to Haynes index]

A Titanic Bureaucrat
State’s education head and the ill-fated captain
...
[Ray Haynes] 2/2/05

When the Titanic sunk, many blamed Captain Edward John Smith for the severe loss of life. He was an able captain with forty three years of experience on the high seas. He had been captain of the Olympic prior to his service on the Titanic, and in that role, had run into a submerged wreck (losing a propeller) and nearly hit another ship. The White Star Line put him in charge of the Titanic anyway, since he’d otherwise had an otherwise long and stellar career (“other than that, how did you like the show, Mrs. Lincoln?”).

Smith, however, made several mistakes in his handling of the Titanic. He went too fast, a common practice at the time. That speed contributed to the damage. When he tried to avoid the iceberg by turning the ship, he couldn’t move the ship fast enough and actually increased the damage that the iceberg did to the hull of the ship. Had he rammed the iceberg or gone slower, chances are the Titanic would have survived. But Captain Smith chose to follow the common wisdom of the time by going as fast as the ship would go and turning to avoid the iceberg. The rest is history.

There is no question that California’s education system is looking a lot like the Titanic, and there is also no question that our current Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell, has a lot of experience in the education world. In the Senate, Superintendent O’Connell chaired the Education Finance Budget Subcommittee. He had more to do with how and how much our schools spent than any other single individual for eight years prior to becoming Superintendent. He was an important member of the Assembly’s governing leadership in the years before he went to the Senate. He had the ability to take an active role to turn our education system around. If any one person was positioned to restore our education system to excellence, it would have been him.

In fact, during his time, education spending has gone up, and the quality of the education system has gone down. So his recent comments that the Governor is trying to undermine the “restoration” of our school system’s excellence by “starving our schools” rings hollow. He claims that we are not “investing in our future.” by spending more money on schools.

First, his comments are false. The Governor is spending more money on schools than last year, just not as much as O’Connell wants to spend. Second, if money were the problem, as I have demonstrated before, California would have solved this crisis long ago. The state has almost doubled per pupil spending in the last ten years, and test scores have gone down, meanwhile, salaries for the adults making money off the system have skyrocketed. School superintendent salaries are approaching $200,000 per year, and O’Connell whines that the schools don’t have enough money. He advocates raising your taxes and spending more money on our current failing system. He also wants to make the system bigger by including pre-school in the current system. That’s real smart—we should give the system more of our money and more of our kids so they can mess things up even more.

Perhaps if O’Connell would have held school bureaucrats accountable for their failures in the Legislature, or even in his current position, the state’s system would not be in the mess it is in now. But rather than demanding more from the adults and unions who are making lots of money off the system, O’Connell has chosen to become their apologist and chief cheerleader. Like Captain Smith, O’Connell would drive the ship into greater danger following the common wisdom rather than thinking outside the box. Maybe he should just do his job, and let the Governor fix the system. Our kids would be better off if he did. To twist a cliché a little bit, continuing to spend money upgrading the deck chairs on the Titanic is missing the point. CRO

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