This year, Larry Powell may face one of his greatest challenges in his long education career. Powell took the oath of office to begin his second term as Fresno County Schools Superintendent on January 5th. Just days later, Governor Brown announced his budget proposal and promised to protect funding for K-12 education, but there’s no guarantee. If voters fail to approve a series of tax extensions in June, Powell will have to put up his best defense to spare primary education from more cuts.
What are your priorities as you begin a new term as Fresno County Schools Superintendent?
Larry Powell: I have 3 priorities: a. Help Districts navigate through this budget crisis we have in California; b. Expand Rachel’s Challenge to more schools in the county in an effort to reduce bullying and teen suicides; c. Increase the numbers of students in Pre-School and Transition Kindergarten.
You hold an elected position, but how comfortable are you with the “politics” of the job?
LP: I have a degree in Political Science and a degree in educational administration so as County Superintendent I get to do both. I love bringing two opposite sides together and that is the art of politics.
In his new budget plan, the Governor says he wants to protect K-12 education… but he’s gambling on voters approving tax extensions due to expire this year. Are you preparing for the worst… especially considering how much K-12 has been cut in recent years?
LP: I will be recommending to all 34 districts in Fresno County that they plan for two budgets; one that is pretty much status quo and one that is a devastator that may include elimination of co and extra-curricular activities as well as higher class sizes and many of the cuts that we hope we will never have to do.
The Governor also wants to eliminate local redevelopment agencies. What are the chances of local schools instead receiving some of the redevelopment funds?
LP: I really doubt that any redevelopment funds will flow to schools. I will just be happy if we get to keep what we have. After all, during the last 2 or 3 years, we have been 56% of the solution while being only 40% of the budget. We have taken our fair share already.
Public colleges and universities would again suffer under the Governor’s proposal. Example: UC & CSU systems would each see a $500 million cut in state funding. What is the “ripple effect” from all these reductions to primary education… if any?
LP: When higher ed is cut, our kids may do all of the hard work necessary to get into a college or university but there may not be an opening because the cuts in higher ed result in fewer seats being available for graduating seniors in high school. There is nothing more demoralizing than for a student to do everything we ask and then there is no seat available for them. It is a broken promise.
How would you advise the Governor and local legislators in handling this budget/education crisis?
LP: No more cuts to K-12. We have taken a disproportionate share in the last three years. I recognized in the past three years that the problem was huge, but now it is time for other areas of the budget to step up and make the sacrifices we have made in K-12.
Governor Brown’s cutbacks include eliminating the State Secretary of Education post. He also shook up the State Board of Education by appointing a new majority. What do you foresee from this new board majority?
LP: I am hopeful that the new State Board of Education Members will be strong advocates for K-12 and that they will help to focus schools in two key areas: academics and relationships. I want smart, capable young people who can relate to each other and members of their community. Sometimes, we focus so heavily on academics that we forget that there are other areas that make for a great society…like respect, kindness, and compassion.