Financial officer's savvy could save DOE
I FIRST LEARNED about the so-called "new report card
" for Hawaii public elementary schools in the Nov. 3
and 4 newspaper stories
, while I was on Molokai for a Board of Education meeting. Though I am a new member of the BOE, I was surprised that I had not heard anything about the report card project, which started more than two years ago with 10 pilot schools. During the portion of our meeting when the public is invited to participate, teachers and administrators expressed great distress about the manner in which the program had been implemented across the state. Roger Takabayashi, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, offered invaluable insights into what was wrong.
I was impressed by the way in which the public articulated the problems that had been created for teachers, principals and the public at large. What disturbed me was the inadequacy of the Department of Education's answers to the people in attendance about a program started more than two and a half years ago.
The most revealing reaction originated from Yale University's admissions representative, Rob Jackson, who stated he feels "very strongly that Hawaii's new report card will hurt the chances for Hawaii kids to go to colleges on the mainland," assuming that we proceed to integrate the new report card format into our high schools.
Since my return to Honolulu, I have focused my attention on learning more about the new report card and the role of the DOE in developing this new system of grading. To date, what I have learned is that the DOE first began pursuing the new format in June 1994, with the issuance of its "Hawaii State Commission on Performance Standards, Final Report." The preface of this document states that it is "the culmination of two years of work." From 1994 to the present, five revisions to these performance standards have been issued, and a provisionary revised report card was introduced to and tested at 10 pilot schools in 2003. The final version of the report card was released across the state in late August 2005, and now there is an outcry from teachers, principals and the public.
The "grades" on the new report card are vague and nebulous. A parent receiving this new report card would not understand the difference between Quarter Report Scale, Progress Descriptors, Status Report Scale and Proficiency Level Descriptors. Parents would not know exactly how their child is performing unless they were to take the time to go through an explanation of the standards themselves. More complicating, there are two different descriptors for the quarter and different descriptors for the semester.
The more I learn about our centralized system, the more I am disturbed about the way it operates. It obviously dissipates large sums of money on failed "make work" projects that we never learn about. Of even greater concern is the realization that the DOE had been apprised of these doubts on the part of our teachers and principals, and ignored them.
Common sense tells us that our island state of 1 million people does not want to set up a new standard of report cards that would have to be assimilated with systems universally used across the nation. We have enough problems educating our children in Hawaii without complicating the process by a bureaucracy that cannot tell us how much we have spent on failed projects.
It is obvious we have spent more than 10 years trying to get to where we are today, in a state of confusion. The DOE has initiated many internal programs about which we lack knowledge and accountability. We do not know the history or the cost of trying to revise the "A-B-C-D" report card system. I have said previously that within the DOE, a number of internal programs have been initiated in the past for which the public had no access to details or cost factors. If we can't figure out what we are doing after more than five years, what makes us think we will be able to figure it out now utilizing the same DOE that created the problem in the first place?
BASED UPON the information that I have assimilated, it is apparent that we need a method of controlling the financial structure of the DOE. We have to start by retaining under contract the services of an outstanding chief financial officer not now associated with the department. That person must have a great deal of freedom to perform for the public and our children with no strings attached from within the existing system. Next, we must have a complete audit of the DOE, particularly the programs that have been initiated, the manner in which new projects are undertaken and the manner in which money is allocated for such activities. That entire project might best be handled by the state auditor, Marion Higa, who with appropriate staffing and funding could accomplish such an audit with the most efficiency and the least cost; or, in the alternative, the hiring of an independent certified public accounting firm to perform a complete audit of the department, with particular attention given to the manner in which we authorize new programs and projects and control the manner in which funds are appropriated for such activities.
I AM particularly concerned about whether or not the entrenched control within the DOE is going to enhance or inhibit the rapid implementation of the provisions of Act 51, which were designed to turn over control of our schools to the principals, as CEOs of each school, and the teachers, who must be given every opportunity to maximize their ability to teach our students.
We are not going to know how to make judgments about where we have been and where we want to go with the DOE until a truly dedicated and competent chief financial officer has been hired.
Cec Heftel is a former Hawaii congressman and current Board of Education member.