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Endorsements: Torlakson top pick for schools superintendent

SACRAMENTO BEE EDITORIAL

Torlakson's background as both a science teacher and a legislator gives him the edge in this race. Because of the relationships he has built in the Legislature and statewide, he could be an effective advocate in helping schools get the resources they need and deserve.

Don't expect big, bold education reforms from the candidates running for superintendent of public instruction. Larry Aceves, a former district superintendent, and Tom Torlakson, a legislator, oppose President Barack Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative.

Both are against merit pay for teachers.

Both identify real problems in California's education system. The achievement gap and high school dropout rates top their lists. Both believe the state's school finance model is broken.

Torlakson's background as both a science teacher and a legislator gives him the edge in this race. Because of the relationships he has built in the Legislature and statewide, he could be an effective advocate in helping schools get the resources they need and deserve.

He would go to voters in 2012 for two measures:

• Allowing voters to raise local revenues for their public schools with a 55 percent majority vote.

• Raising funds to repair and modernize school facilities.

As a legislator, Torlakson was a key negotiator with former Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte in creating a framework and winning legislative votes for the Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities bond act of 1998. He believes the time is ripe for another school bond measure.

Torlakson has a passion for environmental education, hands-on training, literacy partnerships and making school facilities more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

There's no getting around the fact that Torlakson has been a reliable vote for the California Teachers Association in blocking key reforms, such as open enrollment. For that reason, many school reformers may choose to back Aceves. Yet Torlakson points to some areas in which he has bucked the teachers union – on requiring career education courses, creating the STAR standardized testing program, collapsing certain "categorical" funds to give local districts more flexibility in spending and extending the school day. He vows to act independently. If elected, we will hold him to that pledge.

As an experienced school administrator and Capitol outsider, Aceves could bring a fresh perspective to the superintendent's job. Unfortunately, in our meetings with Aceves, we didn't see him exhibit the kind of energy and vision that Torlakson offered.

This is a time when Democrats need to challenge their own party and union benefactors if they want to get California to the next stage of public school improvement. As a teacher, Torlakson is in a "Nixon goes to China" position to confront his allies about the teacher effectiveness issue, without coming off as a finger-pointer. Although teaching quality is just one of many hurdles California faces in improving public education, it is a serious one, and Torlakson will have to tackle it head-on if he is elected.

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