Friday, April 18, 2003

Committee stalls on local
school board measure

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

The Legislature is not likely to pass a measure this session to put a question on the 2004 ballot letting voters decide whether to establish local school boards, a key senator said yesterday.

"At this point, realistically, we need to forgo a question this session because we're just not close enough," said Senate Education Committee Chairman Norman Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village).

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"It's not even about wordsmithing a question -- we're just not close enough."

Sakamoto's comments came as a House-Senate conference committee began negotiations on proposals aimed at bringing school governance closer to communities.

The committee took no immediate action on the bills.

Gov. Linda Lingle supports local school boards and has repeatedly lobbied for public support.

Last week, citing polls showing support for local boards, she said lawmakers who continue to oppose the idea are likely to face political consequences in 2004.

Sakamoto had opened the possibility of having a ballot question approved this session by including it in the Senate's overall school governance plan.

His counterpart, Rep. Roy Takumi, repeated the House's staunch position that because voters would not be able to decide the matter until November 2004, there is ample time to study the issue.

"We're certainly open to working with ... all interested parties to come up with something to put on the ballot next year that would structure the governance of our schools," said Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades).

More immediately, conferees will have to focus over the next few days on how to reconcile differences in their proposals aimed at bringing more community involvement and control to schools now.

The House has proposed 15 complex-area school councils, while the Senate has proposed seven appointed regional agencies that would serve on an interim basis until the matter of local school boards can be decided by voters.

Both plans would retain the statewide Board of Education.

Takumi said House members were concerned that having only seven regional agencies would be burdensome because each jurisdiction would be responsible for as many as 40 or 50 schools.

The committee deferred a decision on the issue until Tuesday, though both Takumi and Sakamoto said their respective sides seem to be moving in the same direction.


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