State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell addresses a class at Santa Paula High School. Photo Brian D. Wilson

Sup. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell visits SPHS

November 28, 2003
Santa Paula High School
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesHe made it a regular stop when he was a State Assemblyman and continued the visits as State Senator.And on Thursday State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell was back in the classroom at Santa Paula High School for his annual visit to Ed Arguelles’ AP Government class where he spoke of his new duties and the new governor.“Arnold Schwarzenegger and I are on a first name basis,” O’Connell told the students with his characteristic humor. “He calls me Jack and I call him Governor. . .”Schwarzenegger was sworn in on Monday, only the second time in United States history that a candidate replaced a recalled state governor.“I’ve known Jack,” for almost three decades, said SPUHS Superintendent Dr. David Gomez. “His father-in-law was one of my mentors,” when Gomez first became an educator.O’Connell, a former Oxnard schoolteacher, has remained devoted to education, Dr. Gomez noted. “We’re very proud of him. He knows his roots and his friends,” and, once elected to office, O’Connell remained a student advocate open to approach by teachers and administrators. “We could always go to Jack.”“For 20 years Jack has made an unbelievable effort to come to this classroom,” Arguelles, also a longtime O’Connell friend, told the students. “Jack had been here 12 years as an assemblyman, eight years as a senator. . .we’ve never been visited by a Superintendent of Public Instruction before.”O’Connell was quick to introduce “one of our top advisors, Cindy Cunningham,” a SPHS graduate - and former student of Arguelles- - whose late mother Roylene served as a district trustee. Cunningham is also the liaison to the governor appointed State Board of Education, noted O’Connell.O’Connell told students that the first recall in the nation was held in 1851 and that Gov. Gray Davis was only the second governor in United States history to be recalled. The focus of the first successful recall “went on to serve 18 years in the Senate,” O’Connell noted.The recall of Davis was “surreal, uncharted waters” and now newly sworn-in Governor Schwarzenegger has many challenges.O’Connell became the first Ventura County representative elected to statewide office in over 100 years when he won overwhelming support in November for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
His duties include overseeing 58 County Superintendents and over 1,000 school districts with about 9,000 schools. Educational programs, financial oversight, testing and even deciding which schools can receive state funding if they fall below the mandated 180 school days are up to O’Connell’s office.Schools in the Rim of the World area were closed for about 17 days and San Bernardino schools were shut down for about five days due to the October firestorms.“If the governor declares a disaster it’s up to the State Superintendent of Schools,” to sanction the shortfall and ensure school funding, noted O’Connell.The author of the Class Size Reduction Bill, O’Connell said his office also “makes sure that $900 a student gets to those classrooms,” the incentive for keeping enrollment manageable.The State Superintendent of School also oversees charter schools, nutritional programs, curriculum standards and concepts, special education, childcare facilities and testing and assessment, among others.Arguelles asked Cunningham to offer comments on her successful career: “It took a lot of hard work and determination,” as well as encouragement from “great teachers. . .I interned for Jack in high school and when I graduated from college, five days later I was in Sacramento working for him.”O’Connell said his advice to educators is to “be creative” as the new governor as vowed not to raise or create taxes and has already cut the vehicle license fee.“Monday morning we had a $10 billion deficit and by the afternoon it was $14 billion,” that will require a 25 percent across the board state budget cut. “The reality will be how we pay,” for services and programs.Although Gov. Schwarzenegger said a $15 billion bond would be the answer to state fiscal woes, the payoff over 20 years could hit $30 billion, said O’Connell.“It’s credit card budgeting. I do not think it’s a good policy. . .put me down as nervous.”

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