Sunday, December 16, 2001

New schools chief
comes armed with
strong credentials

The issue: Pat Hamamoto faces
daunting challenges as superintendent
of Hawaii's public education.

Pat Hamamoto's professional background indicates she is well prepared for the arduous task of leading Hawaii's public schools. Her deep experience in the school system furnishes her with a comprehensive understanding of operations from top to bottom.

Even so, she will need to keep her wits about her and hone her political skills to deal with the many fingers stuck in the Department of Education's pie.

Hamamoto sets out at a time when a laundry list of challenges burdens public education. Congress is poised to pass an education bill that will require millions of students across the country to take annual reading and math tests. Their scores will affect how much federal money schools get and how they will spend it. Although the bill authorizes $26.5 billion to help states, the amount will likely fluctuate because Congress will specify spending from year to year, making long-term planning difficult.

The new superintendent must also complete work on special education services with a March deadline looming for compliance with federal court orders. Because Hamamoto, as deputy superintendent, had been directing the department's efforts there, she appears to have that crucial task under control. Hamamoto must move forward on the plans of her predecessor, Paul LeMahieu, to set standards for basic knowledge and skills, and to institute statewide testing.

Then there's the budget crunch. The department must cope with a $21 million decrease in state funds over the next two years. Hamamoto faces difficult choices as to what will be trimmed.

That a long, laborious search for a new superintendent was avoided is probably a good thing because finding someone with top-drawer credentials who would be willing to jump into the quarrelsome arena that is public education in Hawaii would not have been easy.

Hamamoto's familiarity with the system is an advantage in that she won't be starting from scratch in understanding how things work. She is credited with a non-confrontational style of leadership. However, she will have to overcome the insider's tendency not to make waves because public education sorely needs shaking up.

As with previous superintendents, Hamamoto has the endorsement of the Board of Education, the teachers' union, other department administrators and the governor's office. As a measure of confidence, the school board awarded her a four-year contract paying $150,000 a year, the maximum allowed and about $60,000 more than LeMahieu was paid.

All of this good will, however, could quickly erode. Having to juggle the competing desires of parents, the school board, teachers, unions, a tenacious bureaucracy, a tangled line of authority and a contentious Legislature is a formidable, unenviable task.

We wish her luck. She's going to need it.

Useless military bases
waste money

The issue: Congress has approved
a defense bill that includes a new round
of military base closings in 2005.

AS much as $3.5 billion a year will be spent on maintaining unnecessary military bases until the next round of base closings occurs four years from now. The Bush administration had wanted the closings two years earlier, but parochial economic interests prevailed over the need to finance the war against terrorism.

President Bush reluctantly will sign a $344 billion defense bill that includes the military base closings, but the compromise is less than satisfactory. No bases in Hawaii are expected to be threatened, but opposition to closings elsewhere will be based on the consequent economic effects on surrounding communities. That should not be the basis for maintaining an otherwise useless military base.

Four rounds of base closings from 1988 to 1995 led to the shutdown of 451 installations, including Barbers Point Naval Air Station on Oahu. While there is no guarantee that another Hawaii base be mothballed in the next round, it is not likely.

However, Senator Inouye warned in August that "the time is coming when the art of war will mean this location will no longer be of prime importance as a strategic place... With fast communications, fast ships, fast transports, (the military) doesn't have to be here."

Hawaii's congressional delegation, elected state officials and leaders of business and labor should work to delay any significant reduction of the military presence in the state, but their economic arguments should be secondary to legitimate defense needs. Meanwhile, Inouye's admonition adds to the pressure for Hawaii to diversify its economy beyond tourism and the military.

The defense bill approved by Congress also requires that the Navy maintain its training range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques until a suitable replacement can be found. It cancels a referendum on the issue that had been scheduled on Vieques. While not pertaining to live-fire exercises in Oahu's Makua Valley, the provision is fair warning of congressional resolve to protect training grounds considered essential to the nation's defense, especially since Sept. 11.

That resolve does not excuse the waste involved in keeping open bases that the military wants closed two years earlier.

"What that means, very simply, is that the United States will continue to have something like 20 percent to 25 percent more bases than we need," said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

"We will be spending money, taxpayers' money, hard-earned money, that is being wasted to manage and maintain bases that we don't need ... The money and the people that are devoted to that task cannot be devoted to something truly important with respect to the war on terrorism."

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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