Friday, November 2, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

Board holds off
on search for
LeMahieu's successor

It doesn't appear the former
superintendent will get severance pay

By Crystal Kua

With federal court deadlines to meet, a legislative session approaching fast, and crucial education initiatives under way, it may be better to wait a few months to start the search for a state superintendent of schools, Board of Education leaders said.

"We should hold off," said Winston Sakurai, Board of Education first vice president. "This is not the time to bring on a new superintendent."

The reason the board isn't in a rush to begin looking for a new schools chief is because of the confidence members say they have in interim Superintendent Pat Hamamoto, who was the deputy under now-departed Superintendent Paul LeMahieu.

"Pat is very knowledgeable and has worked hard. We want to let her do her thing," Board Chairman Herbert Watanabe said.

Something else the board isn't rushing to do is to raise private funds for a severance package for LeMahieu, who denied allegations that his admitted affair with a Hilo woman led to a $600,000 contract to her company to assist with special education services .

That's because the state Attorney General's Office has determined that public funds can't be used to pay the severance.

"You don't get severance when you voluntarily resign," Attorney General Earl Anzai said. "It's not a proper expenditure of public funds."

Watanabe said that board members were thinking of offering $45,000 severance as a humanitarian gesture but were awaiting the opinion of the attorney general to see if they could legally do it. LeMahieu's contract, which doesn't include provisions for severance, was set to expire at the end of August.

Watanabe said he has also received phone calls and e-mail, all against paying LeMahieu severance.

"I would certainly abide by the attorney general's opinion," said Karen Knudsen, school board second vice president.

Both Knudsen and Sakurai said they're also against a suggestion that the board could seek private funds to pay for severance.

"If anyone wants to pass the hat, count me out," Knudsen said.

Board members say the search for a new superintendent at this time would distract the department from the critical work of complying with a federal consent decree, implementing standards-based education and preparing for the upcoming legislative session.

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