Californians Aim to Stem Decline in State Education

CALL it, ``California: The Summit II.''

Fresh on the heels of a three-day economic summit last fall that state leaders say climaxed with one of the most productive sessions ever for the California legislature, the same organizers this week concluded a repeat performance in the field of education.

Faced with a two-decade decline from America's No. 1 state to below 40th in several indicators - among them student scores on scholastic aptitude tests as well as teacher salaries - Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown heard from scores of state and national experts in fields ranging from funding to curriculum to computers.

``We [once] looked to California for leadership, for models [on] how to solve education problems,'' said Dick Callahan, a former Boston school administrator now in the education division of Apple Computers.

In an admonition typical of dozens of seven-minute, prepared remarks heard before 500 of the state's top business, political, and education leaders gathered at San Francisco's Westin St. Francis Hotel, Mr. Callahan concluded: ``Though there is now a lack of connection between what students are learning and the hope of employment, Californians still have the spirit of innovation when compared to other states... Do what needs to be done before you lose all the good people you have.''

Major presentations focused on such topics as what Americans can learn from Japanese and Chinese educational systems; the causes and cures for school violence; the ways and means of school financing, the prospects for interactive technologies; attracting and retaining quality teachers.

Several talks focused on total restructuring of school systems across the state to focus more on student achievement. Others focused primarily on financing, questioning the wisdom of California's infamous Proposition 13, which drastically cut property taxes in 1978 but clamped a lid on localized funding of schools.

``I urge you to look at the impact of Prop. 13 ... and consider greater creativity in your pattern of spending,'' said Bess Stephenson, manager of Hewlett Packard's K-12 education division.

Others said the state's education climate is tied too closely to its economic woes to improve anytime soon. Budget deficits of $14.5 billion in 1991, $11.5 billion in 1992, and $8 billion last year helped fuel dozens of pay cuts and teacher strikes statewide. This year's expected shortfall is at least $4 billion.

``My initial feeling was this is all PR,'' state Sen. Gary Hart, longtime chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said. ``But as I look at it and think about it, I think it's very helpful.''

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