Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Plan set for local
school boards

A panel releases a report
on reforms that backs

After holding meetings statewide, Gov. Linda Lingle's education committee unveiled a final plan yesterday that includes the main planks it began with: local school boards, a new funding formula for schools and more power to principals.

"I'm very optimistic that with the public's support of this issue, we will be successful in this (legislative) session," Lingle said, accepting the report of Citizens Achieving Reform in Education, whose members she appointed.

The committee has been criticized as being stacked in favor of the governor's proposals.

Roger Takabayashi, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said he was a "lone voice of dissent" on the committee and asked to have his name removed as an author of its report.

"Local school boards will not add to student achievement and will only add another layer of bureaucracy," he said. "Multiple boards will drain resources away from schools. Education is already so underfunded as it is."

The report blames centralization for holding back Hawaii's schools and says the state is spending enough money on education, but not enough reaches the classroom. It calls for the creation of seven locally elected school boards, with a process to add more.

"The committee is concerned about the Department of Education's refusal to decentralize," said Laura Thielen, the only Board of Education member on the committee. "It may be too much to ask of any self-respecting bureaucracy."

Under the CARE plan, a State Education Standards Board would set standards for student achievement and financial reporting, monitor the local boards and ensure equitable funding statewide. That board would be appointed by the Legislature and confirmed by the governor, but both legislators and the governor would have to relinquish their role in determining how funds are spent in the schools.

Under a "weighted student formula," extra money would go to schools with students who cost more to educate, such as those with special needs. Principals would receive funds in a lump sum and determine how they are spent. They would be placed on yearly contracts, with a pay raise, and held accountable for the academic progress of their students. They could remain unionized but would not hold tenure as principals.

Students could attend the school of their choice as long as there is room. The report also recommends increasing the number of charter schools and allowing charter school employees to choose whether to unionize.

The report concludes that the plan can be implemented by the fall of 2005. But it acknowledged that questions remain, such as how local school boards will deal with statewide unions.

While the Legislature may tinker with aspects of the plan, Lingle said she and the committee believe that local school boards are necessary for successful implementation of the "weighted student formula."

But Takabayashi and board Chairman Breene Harimoto disagreed, saying they support the latter but not the former.

"Weighted student formula and local school boards are two different issues," Harimoto said. "We need to look at each on its merits. The risk of local school boards is politicizing education and micromanagement."

The 25-member committee was chaired by Stan Kawaguchi, retired manager of an engineering firm, and included business leaders, the state's finance director, two teachers, two charter school principals and William Ouchi, the governor's education consultant. No regular public school principals were on the committee.

Harimoto said the members were "carefully selected" and "do not necessarily represent the views of the majority."

"It's unfortunate that the CARE group was put together with perhaps a slanted view to begin with," Harimoto said. "The only way to solve the issue is for everybody to work together."


School board wants change
in way members are elected

While Gov. Linda Lingle wants to create seven local school boards, the Board of Education is pushing a different way to help the statewide system connect with voters.

Board Chairman Breene Harimoto and his colleagues are proposing a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to elect Board of Education members to represent them directly, rather than voting for them at large.

"We're keenly aware of how much confusion there is over how board members are elected," Harimoto said. "People feel like, 'I don't know who my board member is,' and it leads to frustration."

The proposed system would have each member of the Board of Education elected by voters of three adjoining state House districts. It would require expanding the state board to 17 members from 13.

Harimoto said it would bring board members closer to voters.

"I would be directly accountable to those people who live in that district, and they would know who I am," Harimoto said. "They would know who they're electing."

Under the current system, candidates are elected islandwide by voters on Oahu, and neighbor island residents vote as a group for school board members to represent Maui, Hawaii and Kauai counties. Many voters are unsure who to support and leave their ballots blank.

The arrangement also can lead to unexpected outcomes. For example, in the 2002 election, Board of Education member Mary Cochran received fewer votes on her home island of Maui than her opponent, Kelly King. But Cochran won the election because she received enough votes on the other neighbor islands to overcome the deficit.


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