May 2, 2006 > County Superintendent of Schools candidate Dr. John Bernard
County Superintendent of Schools candidate Dr. John Bernard
Dr. John Bernard, Superintendent of Newark Unified School District, is a candidate for Alameda County Superintendent of Schools. Although elections to this office are often overshadowed by other races, this position can have a profound effect on local school districts. Dr. Bernard has a long history in education as a classroom teacher, resource teacher, vice principal, personnel administrator, principal (2 schools), director of k-12 instruction, assistant superintendent and superintendent in three districts. He believes his experience and training are vital components of an effective county superintendent and, if elected, will improve the educational system of Alameda County. Besides this interview, TCV interviewed Dr. Bernard (January 3, 2006) in a series dedicated to local school superintendents. This is available on thisr website using the search function.
TCV: What is the significance of county superintendent of schools?
Dr. Bernard: Unfortunately, it is a low profile position but has a great deal of importance, especially in the last 15-18 years. Of the 58 counties in the state, there are six that have an appointed school superintendent while the rest have an elected superintendent. In very small counties, the role includes that of Superintendent of Instruction as well.
There are five main roles of the position. The primary role is the fiscal oversight and monitoring of school budgets within the county. The county reviews and signs off on school district budgets on an ongoing basis. If the budget is approved for the year and following two years, it is considered a "positive" budget. If approval is given for the current year and next year, but not the third year, the budget is considered a "qualified" budget. If the budget is unacceptable even for the first year, it is considered a "negative" budget. My experience as a superintendent in three different counties has always been with positive budgets and positive interim reports.
The law requires that budgets be prepared in advance. In Newark, we are now preparing a budget for the '06-'07 school year and the next two years. Subsequently, we prepare interim reports on funding and expenditures. Out of 58 California counties, in the last 15 years, seven districts have gone bankrupt and of those, two of them were in Alameda County under the direct responsibility of the incumbent. These are two different sized districts, Oakland and Emeryville.
Emeryville is a small district where the county handles most of their services. To not catch spending that was unauthorized by their board of education is the direct responsibility of the county. Oakland is a different situation. Other county superintendents allow districts to use bond money as a loan when the district is going into the red. The incumbent, Sheila Jordan, did not allow Oakland to use the bond money, they went into default and the state took over. Ms. Jordan proposes that she is in favor of local control, but her actions in that situation removed local control.
The county superintendent is also responsible for education in community schools and Juvenile Hall schools. The programs are designed to help kids avoid becoming repeat offenders. Counties where there are no programs have a recidivism rate of 70-75 percent. When there are programs, the rate drops significantly. Programs available in other counties are not available in Alameda County. Achievement of these kids is not good; it was better before Ms. Jordan's took over.
A third job of the county superintendent is to monitor teacher credentials, a processing role. Every teacher must have their credential recorded. Another area is staff development as required or requested and the last is the technology piece, providing support. The technology at the county is probably at its lowest ebb since Ms. Jordan arrived. It was stellar in the 80s and early 90s but stopped when she came on board in 1999.
When Sheila Jordan ran for this office, she pledged to reduce her salary but the truth is that since taking office, her salary has increased significantly. She also said that the public relations department would be eliminated, replaced by a parent advocacy center. At the time there was one full-time and one half-time person. Now there are five full-time employees with a huge budget compared to when she arrived. The Alameda County Civil Grand Jury has become very critical of her in 2001. This can be seen at their website when discussing education.
I believe the voters need to have a choice. I am an educator with experience in educating children as an instructional leader, a person with a budget background and an education background in five counties. I asked Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (a state agency created to help financially troubled districts as a result of the Richmond bankruptcy) which counties are the most successful in terms of fiscal management and oversight. They named Orange County, Kern County and Marin County. I worked in Kern County and Marin County and have observed and know what they do to be successful including ongoing monitoring and support and fiscal oversight. I believe my experience can provide something better for the county.
This election is not about a personality conflict between Sheila and John; it is about kids, schools, the communities and future of Alameda County. If we don't do something now, there will be more problems down the road.
TCV: Does the county supervisor become involved with school curriculum?
Dr. Bernard: Not directly unless the state names the county as the agency or training site for something in particular. In the past, 10 or 12 years ago, Alameda County had a wonderful reputation for staff development. When I was a teacher and principal in San Francisco, we would love to come to Alameda County to hear great presenters speak about important topics at a very low cost. Now, training at the county offices is very expensive; it has become a profitable enterprise.
I have received the endorsement of all three county superintendents prior to Sheila Jordan. I began my campaign in November while Ms. Jordan began in May as an unopposed candidate.
TCV: Why is the position of Alameda County Superintendent of Schools is so important?
Dr. Bernard: Every school district is one situation away from similar experiences of others that have gone bankrupt. As an example, two years ago, the Alameda School District was in good shape. They adopted a budget in June and everything appeared okay. Between June and the opening of school in September, residents of a housing complex, including over 300 school-age children, were evicted. The school had already hired teachers and prepared for these kids and was put in the position of losing the financial support of $5,000 - $6,000 per child. This created a fiscal crisis that had to be worked out. In Newark, we have put money into a special reserve just in case an unforeseen crisis arises.
TCV: What can the county superintendent do about this?
Dr. Bernard: School budgets are sometimes adopted prior to knowing what the final state budget will be. The June budget is built based on anticipated enrollment. As county superintendent, I will review enrollment numbers about a month after school begins to see how the numbers match and if there is a problem, ask for a plan to resolve it. This is proactive monitoring and oversight. This is not currently done.
TCV: Does the superintendent coordinate information exchange between county educators?
Dr. Bernard: In this county, monthly meetings are convened by the county office of education. Announcements by the superintendent are made at the end of the meeting. When I have attended such meetings in other counties, the county superintendent co-chaired or chaired the meeting. I prefer that format.
One of the jobs of the county superintendent is to provide oversight for the community colleges. I have spoken with two of the three presidents of our local colleges and there has been little communication. There is a need for each school to know what others are doing and why students attend a particular community college. I would like to analyze attendance data and encourage conversations and dialogue about this information.
There needs to be dialogue between the k-12 districts and the community colleges as well. As time goes on, this will become a requirement since there will not be enough seats at four-year colleges to accommodate all entering as freshmen. Many students will attend community colleges on contracts to attend universities following their first two years. There needs to be a different perspective by some high school teachers of the value of a community college education. I also know the Dean for the School of Education at CSUEB from my days in San Francisco when she was also working there. I welcome the opportunity for greater collaboration.
TCV: Is there outreach by the county to private educational institutions?
Dr. Bernard: There has to be outreach because there are special programs that require that money be distributed county-wide to all students. If Proposition 82 passes in June, every four year-old will have the constitutional right to receive preschool education regardless of whether in the private or public sector. State Superintendent Jack O'Connell will have the responsibility, if Proposition 82 is passed, to come up with a guideline for curriculum standards by December 31, 2006. Once that is complete, beginning January 1, 2007 through June, county superintendents will develop a program to see who wants to participate as a provider. There may be problems for existing providers who are not credentialed or do not meet new standards. There probably will be a need for some "clean-up" legislation to help avoid confusion after the planning stage is completed. The county superintendent will need to take a leadership role.