- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Jan. 8

The San Diego Union-Tribune on new chief of California schools:

Eighteen months ago, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, saw her attempts to improve the state’s badly flawed teacher tenure law thwarted by maneuvering led by Democrats allied with the California Teachers Association, in particular Assemblyman Tony Thurmond of Richmond, who later apologized. On Monday, Weber spoke at Thurmond’s swearing-in as state superintendent of public instruction. This may have been a courtesy. But it may also suggest Weber is privately lobbying Thurmond in the hope he’ll pursue basic education reforms his predecessor, Tom Torlakson, opposed.

Every Californian should hope Thurmond is a change agent. It’s absurd that teachers can get tenure in the spring of their second year on the job; that the state doesn’t use smart metrics to track student progress and how much teachers help their students learn, and that many districts don’t try aggressively to coach up struggling young teachers. Instead, those resistant to reform continue to insist that school quality is a function of school spending despite all the evidence from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida and Texas that this just isn’t true - that multilevel accountability is what’s essential.

Thurmond’s inaugural speech, alas, had as a main focus the need to increase funding. But in his August interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board, he said he should not be defined by his teachers union support. He added then that he supported tenure changes and better tracking of student performance, and that he opposed Torlakson’s 2015 decision that additional funds going to schools specifically to help English-language learners, foster children and children from poor families could be used for teacher raises.

We’ll be watching to see if he keeps pushing for what he promised against a schools reformer in a tough campaign. We’ll be tracking his performance.


Jan. 8

San Francisco Chronicle on PG&E;’s disastrous string of wildfires not needing to lead to state bailout:

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., its customers and taxpayers are facing a future that’s nothing but bleak. The options include selling off gas operations, legal fury from a federal judge and a retreat into uncertain bankruptcy. None of it is reassuring.

The giant utility is collapsing in other ways with its sinking stock price and departing executives accompanied by a call for fresh figures on its board of directors to steady the company. Tens of billions in liabilities along with court sanctions stemming from a wave of wildfires linked to faulty equipment are taking a toll. Bankruptcy would shield the company from many of its financial worries but devastate its market value.

If PG&E; is mulling its options, it should toss one away right now. No Sacramento bailout should be in the mix. In September, the Legislature and former Gov. Jerry Brown approved a plan for bonds to cover wildfire costs to be borne by ratepayers. It was a too-big-to-fail gambit: The state’s largest investor-owned utility needed state help to prevent hitting the financial rocks. While fires burned, that threat was good enough to win political support.

Now it turns out PG&E; was thinking back then of other financial paths that didn’t impose a burden on customers. It was considering selling off its gas operations to pay down future liabilities from wildfire fines and lawsuits. It wasn’t leveling with Sacramento while it dickered over the bond bailout plan. Gov. Gavin Newsom knows this history well enough and should make it clear he won’t endorse another round of financial forgiveness.

The company must put all the cards on the table. It needs a management shake-up and reorganization that places safety at the top of the list, a pledge it endorsed nearly a decade ago after the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion.

Bankruptcy comes with costs beyond financial rebuilding. The state’s ambitious goal of moving to all renewable power currently includes PG&E;’s help. A utility in the throes of bankruptcy might not be able or obligated to deliver on the climate change policies this state needs.

But dumping the utility’s problems on Sacramento to solve goes too far. PG&E; needs to take the serious steps needed to resolve the crisis it created.


Jan. 7

Gavin Newsom’s tenure as governor got off to a bit of a rough start.

The threat of storms forced the proceedings into a tent. Protesters disrupted his oath of office with chants. Finally - and most memorably - his two-year-old son, Dutch, toddled onto the stage in the middle of the inaugural speech and stole the show.

The governor handled it with humor and grace, turning the unexpected to his advantage. He’ll need to remain nimble as he takes the helm as California’s 40th governor. The months and years ahead will test him as nothing ever has before.

In his inaugural speech, Gov. Newsom spoke of California’s symbolic importance to the rest of the world. He cast the challenges facing our state as “moral imperatives” that must be addressed for the good of humanity. He specifically highlighted poverty, pollution, private prisons and payday lenders as threats to the California dream. He lifted up criminal justice reform, abortion rights and “middle-class jobs” as things he plans to fight for and protect.

Eyes glistening with emotion, Newsom said: “In our home, working people deserve fair pay, the right to join a union, and the chance at a middle-class life for themselves and their families.”

He promised a “Marshall Plan for affordable housing” and pledged to “lift up the fight against homelessness from a local matter to a state-wide mission.”

Inauguration speeches tend to be heavy on aspiration, and Newsom’s did not disappoint: “The country is watching us. The world is waiting on us. The future depends on us. And we will seize this moment.”

He made sure to throw the requisite elbow at President Donald Trump, blasting the “corruption and incompetence in the White House” while also pledging to represent “all Californians, not only those who voted for (him).”

The governor’s speech stuck to poetry and did not delve into policy specifics. For instance, he didn’t mention how he’ll solve the state’s chronic battles over disputed water supplies. If the record rains pounding California this week continue, they may save him from the problem of apocalyptic drought during his first year. Jerry Brown’s $14 billion budget surplus is another blessing, one that has temporarily fended off the budget drama of years past.

Now that the speech is over, however, the governing begins - and the sky wasn’t the only thing leaking in California this month. Newsom’s advisers have been busy dribbling out glimpses of his forthcoming budget. On the menu: billions of dollars in new spending. Not included: how California will pay for these new programs.

Among the new spending Newsom will propose in his first budget:

-$1.7 billion for early childhood education. As he promised in his campaign, Newsom will take bold steps to support parents and fund child development programs. This will include $750 million for universal kindergarten, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

-Free community college: Newsom will propose $40 million in extra funding to provide a second free year of community college to California students, according to Politico.

-Extended paid parental leave: Newsom “is expected to introduce a proposal to give families six months of paid leave after the birth of a child,” says The New York Times, adding: “What’s unclear is how California will pay for it.”

The fact that most of his budget news was leaked to East Coast publications suggests that Newsom is already eyeing a national profile for himself. But while the Potomac may beckon, a governor must first succeed along the banks of the Sacramento.

Newsom has vowed to continue Brown’s pattern of fiscal responsibility, a promise he repeated in his speech. “We will be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars, pay down debt and meet our future obligations,” he said. “But let me be clear: We will be bold. We will aim high. And we will work like hell to get there.”

Balancing bold new ideas and limited resources will be the defining challenge of the Newsom administration. We look forward to the details.

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