Thursday, October 2, 2003

Lingle forum focuses
on reforming public schools

Decentralization and budget
accountability are basic elements

The Republican Lingle administration's preliminary blueprint for public school reform was unveiled yesterday at a well-attended state Capitol forum. Noticeably absent were leaders from the Legislature's Democratic majority, some of whom said they weren't invited.

It was a prelude to Gov. Linda Lingle's announcement later in the day of a 22-member "group of educators, community leaders and concerned residents," making up the Citizens to Achieve Reform in Education, or CARE.

"It certainly does not include all the stakeholders and that's by design. You don't see politicians from both parties of the Legislature here. You don't see Department of Education representatives," Lingle said.

"It's not because we don't respect them, but clearly our goal here is to achieve something here that the stakeholders may not agree with, not today and maybe not ever," she said. "Our effort is about children, not about taking care of the stakeholders."

The basic elements of the preliminary plan are decentralizing the state Department of Education, granting school principals greater budget authority but then holding them accountable and setting each school's budget based on the individual educational needs of students.

It's a system that was implemented in the public schools in Edmonton, Canada, and is now being copied in large part and with reported success in school districts in Houston and Seattle. Leaders of those districts outlined the results.

State Superintendent of Education Patricia Hamamoto cautioned it was just one of the ideas expected to be reviewed over the next few days.

"In order to do deep systemic change so that we get the results we want, we're obligated and mandated to look at all the different variables out there," she said.

"So reform isn't something we take lightly, reform isn't something that you just pick out of a hat or you look in a magazine or you think what's the latest flavor of the month and you proceed," she said.

Senate President Robert Bunda said his office didn't receive any notice of the forum and learned of it only when individual senators mentioned they had been invited. Randy Roth, Lingle's senior adviser, insisted all lawmakers were invited

Moderating the forum was UCLA professor William Ouchi, an advocate for decentralized school systems and giving principals more control over funding allocated to their school.

With him were Mike Strembitsky, superintendent of the Edmonton, Canada, public schools; Donald McAdams, a Houston Board of Education member; and Joseph Olchefske, the Seattle Public School District superintendent.

The three school officials were part of efforts to take on school districts that were in disarray, under press and public criticism and losing enrollment to districts with increased enrollments and substantial student performance.


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