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Tuesday, February 8, 2000

Schools should be
held accountable

Bullet The issue: The Board of Education has voted to support the "intent" of a bill that would exempt an accountability system from the collective bargaining law.

Bullet Our view: Accountability is essential in the school system, whether or not it is achieved through collective bargaining.

The Board of Education has flip-flopped on accountability. In December the board had voted unanimously to delete language in proposed legislation that would exempt an accountability system from the collective bargaining law. Last week, following Governor Cayetano's restoration of the language, the board voted 11-0 to support the "intent" of the bill.

The reason for the first vote -- if such a pathetic explanation can be so dignified -- was that the board didn't want to jeopardize its relationship with the public employee unions. Vice Chairwoman Karen Knudsen explained that the board wanted to avoid damaging contract negotiations with the Hawaii State Teachers Association. In effect, the board was taking the position that policy questions should be decided according to the views of the union.

Evidently the board members had second thoughts. Perhaps Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu, who, to his credit, is promoting accountability, did some lobbying behind the scenes.

Knudsen said the board, while supporting the intent of the measure, "was still not comfortable with some of the details." Perhaps that quibble was intended to spare the board members the wrath of the HSTA come election time.

For his part, LeMahieu declared diplomatically that he had no real disagreement with the HSTA on accountability. No indeed. Then what is all the fuss about?

The union wants to include accountability in collective bargaining so that it can trade whatever concessions it makes on that issue for other benefits. That way the leadership can take the contract agreement back to the members and claim it didn't just bow to the state's demands but reached a deal that was good for the union.

The accountability bill would establish a system of rewards, assistance and sanctions. It makes a great deal of sense as a means of improving an ailing school system.

Sanctions are essential to make accountability work but they are certainly the hardest part to gain approval.

There is no reason to believe that the Board of Education's decidedly lukewarm endorsement will impress the legislators. They are far more likely to heed the urgings of the union lobbyists, who call many of the shots at the Capitol. Even the governor's support probably won't suffice to overcome determined union opposition.

It's encouraging to see the Board of Education come down on the right side of this issue -- if only belatedly and half-heartedly. Cayetano, of course, has nothing to lose because he won't be running for office again. Credit LeMahieu for sticking his neck out and pushing this idea.

However, the question of including accountability in collective bargaining is of less consequence than instituting accountability -- one way or another. If the HSTA wins this fight in the Legislature, the public should demand that it bargain this question in good faith and work to make the system truly accountable.

Russia’s capture of
Chechen capital

Bullet The issue: Russians are celebrating control of the Chechen capital of Grozny after a five-month battle.

Bullet Our view: The war in Chechnya will move to the countryside. The West should press for a peace agreement.

AFTER five months of intense fighting, Russians hoisted their flag above the Chechen capital of Grozny, but the celebration hardly signifies the end of the civil war in the breakaway republic.

Most of the rebels have fled to the mountains, much as they did four years ago before recapturing Grozny. However, Kremlin control of Grozny may reduce the Russian casualty rate and temporarily maintain political acceptability, which is what the war has been mostly about.

Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin owes much of his popularity among voters to his tough support for troops in Chechnya when he was prime minister under Boris Yeltsin. His most serious potential challengers in next month's presidential elections have dropped out, making Putin a likely shoo-in for president. However, a recent increase in Russian casualties during the battle for Grozny had begun to weaken the war's popularity.

Separatist rebels announced last week that they had decided to abandon Grozny and instead carry out their attacks on Russian forces from the nearby mountains and countryside. "For the time being we have given up the city. We will conquer it later," Chechen President Asian Maskhadov told a Spanish newspaper. "Now we enter a phase of guerrilla war."

Rebel forces suffered greatly from the onslaught on Grozny, and the decision to abandon the city for the countryside was not implemented with ease. Russian troops tried to stymie the move with artillery fire and minefields, claiming success in intercepting militants and killing about 300 in the last two days.

"The events of 1996, when the rebels left Grozny and then came back, will not happen again," vowed Marshal Igor Sergeyev, the Russian defense minister.

Still, Russia faces a guerrilla war that could continue for months or years. Progress toward a peaceful resolution of the war will have to await the presidential election. After that, the West should be poised to apply pressure for a negotiated settlement.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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