Senate panel rejects Governor’s SBE appointee

In a move rife with political implications, the Senate Rules committee Wednesday voted to reject one of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's nominees to the California State Board of Education because of her status as a civil servant employed by the state.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Jeannie Oropeza was more than qualified to be a member of the state board but because she also serves as program manager for the Department of Finance overseeing the state's education budget - Steinberg said her appointment posed irreconcilable" conflicts.

The full Senate is expected to follow suit today and formally reject the nomination.

Schwarzenegger said in a statement Wednesday that he was disappointed by the action.

"Jeannie is widely recognized as one of the most knowledgeable people in the state on education policy and she would have been a great addition to the board," the governor said. "I'm disappointed she was not given the opportunity to present her case to serve the students of California."

The Senate's rejection could set the stage for a serious power struggle over the state board's direction during Schwarzenegger's last days in office. It is important to note that while the governor's term ends in December, his appointees to the state board could carry on another four years.

Already two of his state board appointees failed to win confirmation from the Senate last month and had to withdraw, while two more appointments the governor made only a few weeks ago appear have provoked a negative reaction from education groups that have close ties to the Senate's Democratic leadership.

Oropeza, 49 of Woodland, has served in her current position at the Department of Finance since 1998 under Gov. Gray Davis and there are expectations that she would still be in her job when a new governor takes office next January. That fact - that she is a civil servant and not a political at-will employee - is the problem, Steinberg said.

"If Ms. Oropeza's day job is defending the governor's budget and helping the governor create policy, how can she under any circumstances act independently from those positions as a voting member of the board of education?" Steinberg asked.

"Civil servants work for this governor and the next governor and perhaps the next," he said. "We should not be putting them into the political arena."

Last month, Schwarzenegger appointed Ben Austin, founder and executive director of the Los Angeles Parent Revolution, a pro-charter non-profit that was instrumental in getting the Legislature to approve the so-called parent trigger earlier this year that gives new powers to families to initiate school restructuring.

The governor also appointed to the state board Alan Arkatov, a Los Angeles-based consultant that has been president of Changing.edu since 2008 and in the past has worked in public relations and information technology.

Both are expected to be strong advocates for charter schools and parent empowerment and may have trouble getting Senate confirmation because of those positions.

Leaving the board earlier this year after receiving strong opposition to their confirmation were Rae Belisle and Jorge Lopez, at least in part because of their support for charter schools.

The Democratic leadership of the Senate may decide against confirming any of the Republican governors appointees to a full, four-year term on the state education board and leave those seats open in hopes that Democrat Jerry Brown wins back the state's chief executive office this fall.

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