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Principals targeted as 'entrepreneurs'

February 04, 2004

Gary Moskowitz

Local officials are giving a cool response to California Secretary of

Education Richard Riordan's plan to put more budget and staffing

decisions in the hands of public school principals.

"We definitely are looking into empowering schools at the local

level, starting with good principals," said Hanna Skandera, Riordan's

assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education.

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Riordan's plans to increase school-site control over how money is

spent on staffing and programs is not an official proposal, but one

of many he is working on to reorganize public school funding

formulas.

Riordan was not available for comment Tuesday, but officials said

he will not make formal proposals until the state budget is approved.

Staff members said his plan would empower school principals to act as

"entrepreneurs," with more control over budgets and staffing.

The plan could include developing a "weighted student formula" to

dole out more funds to schools with larger English-language learner

populations and schools with larger populations of students from

low-income families.

Riordan's plans seem vague to Lou Stewart, co-principal at

Glendale High School, which would meet Riordan's criteria.

"To me at this point, it seems like political rhetoric," Stewart

said. "I don't know the details, but I know that in this district,

there is not a problem. We work closely with the district and they

base funding decisions based on what we say our needs are.

"Having public education fully funded would solve our problems.

This is the worst budget crisis that the state has seen in a long

time, and to me, this is vague," Stewart said Tuesday.

The Glendale Unified School District operates on a funding and

staffing formula based on student enrollment and student need, said

Steve Hodgson, the district's chief business and financial officer.

The district assigns a certain number of teachers to each school

based on enrollment, and it is up to the site principal to decide how

to assign teachers, Hodgson said.

"I don't think most of us have a problem with schools making those

decisions, but there is still a district to run," Hodgson said. "We

have to make repairs, do payrolls, make our computers work, and lots

of things outside the school site. As long as you provide the classes

students need to graduate, which is what the board says they have to

do, the rest is up to [principals]."

School board member Chuck Sambar was wary of Riordan's proposal.

"While I appreciate Riordan's proposal to provide added support to

schools with high [ELL] enrollment, I question the wisdom of direct

funding to schools when boards of education are elected to ensure how

money is spent in a school district in an equitable manner," he said.

Riordan's plan, according to reports, is rooted heavily in the

educational philosophies spelled out in UCLA management professor

William G. Ouchi's book, "Making Schools Work."

Linda Evans, co-principal at Crescenta Valley High School, bought

a copy of Ouchi's book this weekend, and described it as

"fascinating.

"At CV, the thinking of our staff is entrepreneurial," Evans said.

"We have started a number of new programs on our own and met with

success. I think I would have to receive significant training to move

to a new system of leadership.

"I also think the plan would be very demanding of the person in

the leadership position, which is a challenge."

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