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Show Riordan the Door

It’s one thing to have an education secretary stir up overblown outrage by insulting a child. But what if that’s one of his only two major -- and dubious -- public acts during nearly eight months in office?

In January, Richard Riordan made his first mark as the governor’s right-hand man on public schools with a proposal to funnel money straight to principals, who would then have freedom in how to spend it. “Local control” is an educational catchphrase everybody can love, but this particular notion is loaded with land mines.

The state has a huge problem recruiting and keeping qualified principals, who already do everything from directing auto traffic on campus to filling in for absent teachers. And with mandated state textbooks, state curriculum and state standardized tests in place, it’s unclear how a school’s ability to buy its own toilet paper would translate into meaningful educational change. So Riordan’s one big initiative has gone nowhere so far.

Meanwhile, Barbara Kerr, head of the California Teachers Assn., says she and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have met many times to work on education issues but Riordan has not attended. Perhaps he was never invited, but it makes you wonder exactly what Riordan -- or, for that matter, any California education secretary -- does for a living.

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Riordan most recently answered this question by appearing at a Santa Barbara library. There, 6-year-old Isis D’Luciano asked Riordan if he knew what her name meant. The would-be Secretary of Comedy answered, “stupid, dirty girl.” The gaffe was monumental, even for a man with a history of telling nasty and just plain bad jokes. Public officials, even education leaders, do say, well, stupid things and survive. U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige comes to mind, with his assertion this year that a teachers union was a “terrorist organization.”

It would be easier to let Riordan’s lapse go if he had a good record in leading a gigantic and tottering state school system during his time in office. He doesn’t, and one reason is that California doesn’t need him to do it. The state already has an elected superintendent of public instruction as well as a Board of Education. The post of education secretary was superfluous long before Riordan.

Schwarzenegger stands behind his appointee. Instead, he should look at this as an opportunity to show the Legislature and the state that he really does believe in budget-cutting -- by eliminating this redundant office.


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