Bersin Picked for Top Schools Position

Times Staff Writers

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today will name San Diego Schools Supt. Alan D. Bersin as California’s next education secretary, according to sources familiar with the decision.

Bersin, 58, will replace Secretary of Education Richard Riordan, who announced this week that he would resign the post June 30.

A tough-talking former U.S. attorney, Bersin battled with the San Diego teachers union and school board members during his contentious seven-year stewardship of one of California’s largest school districts.


An official in the Schwarzenegger administration indicated Thursday night that the governor would choose Bersin as his top education advisor, but the governor’s office issued no public confirmation.

Bersin is known for being an articulate, intelligent and hard-charging leader whose style has sometimes rankled other school leaders in San Diego.

“I think this position will make Bersin a real player,” said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Assn.

“He will emerge as an astute and effective leader in the administration in a way that Riordan could never achieve, no matter how close he was to the governor,” Plotkin said. “It’s going to be real interesting to see how this unfolds.”

Bersin, appointed San Diego superintendent in 1998, clashed with the local teachers union and eventually lost the confidence of his school board.

Among the initiatives that proved controversial was his Blueprint for Student Success, a plan that emphasized literacy and math skills. Critics complained that it slighted arts, music and other enrichment courses. Supporters said his changes helped raise district test scores; his foes said that his management style was harsh and that he alienated many teachers.

Before the San Diego school board’s vote on Bersin’s contract, teachers unions launched a campaign urging the board to oust him. They complained that he didn’t listen to parents or teachers.

His contract was to have expired in June 2006, but he agreed to cut his tenure short by one year.