Business roundtable promotes school reform
IF Hawaii is to sustain its economic momentum, a well-educated workforce is vital. That's why improving Hawaii's public schools is a major focus for the Hawaii Business Roundtable.
First Hawaiian Bank's Don Horner is chairman of HBR, a non-profit organization of influential business leaders. To him, Act 51 (the Reinventing Education Act of 2004) is a positive effort to change the course of education in Hawaii. In fact, HBR is committed to seeing the full implementation of Act 51, particularly its provisions for empowering principals and for distributing funds to schools using a weighted student formula (WSF).
HBR's Education Task Force, under the leadership of Mitch D'Olier and Nonie Toledo, is finalizing a position paper urging the Legislature and the Lingle administration to focus on four "redesigns": creating an effective Department of Education management structure; giving the DOE flexibility over its budget; empowering principals; and enhancing the technology infrastructure.
As the leader of a nearly $2 billion state agency, Superintendent Pat Hamamoto must have the flexibility to organize her management team. The HBR draft report proposes a suggested reorganization including the creation of a new position -- DOE chief financial officer.
Where there is public skepticism about the DOE, it often centers around fiscal numbers. The controversy about the WSF has its roots, to some extent, in the "moving" numbers presented by the DOE because of an antiquated accounting system. If a CFO position were added, this position should not only be the public "face" of DOE finances, but should also guarantee the reliability, stability and transparency of the department's numbers.
THE REPORT urges the Legislature to lighten its grasp on the education "wallet" by providing the DOE with a lump-sum operations budget. This fiscal flexibility both at the state DOE level and at the school level will enable the DOE to move dollars around to get the job done. Without this flexibility, there can be no accountability.
In fact, the report says principals should control at least 90 percent of their schools' operations budgets. Under the current formulation of the WSF, starting in 2006-'07, principals will control 72 percent of the DOE budget, but 24 percent of this amount must be spent within prescribed categories. Nevertheless, principals should be able to exercise greater expenditure decisions under WSF.
In addition to fiscal control, the report argues, principals must have management rights and tools to be effective administrators of their "companies." While supporting the collective bargaining process and the right to fairness and due process for all employees, the draft report suggests principals should be able to make changes on their campuses without obtaining the approval of 75 percent of their faculty, as required for teacher contract issues. If principals' hands are tied so they can't be the effective administrators Act 51 empowers them to be, then these types of issues must be resolved at the bargaining table for reform to succeed.
FINALLY, the DOE's technology infrastructure needs an infusion of funding to bring it into the 21st century. Specifically, the report calls for the upgrading of three information systems: financial management, human resources and student performance. Without these improved systems, we won't know whether dollars are being well spent and whether Act 51 has stimulated improved learning.
The commitment of business leaders to improving our schools is most welcome. For Act 51 to succeed, all of us must participate and become education stakeholders.
Ruth Tschumy is a consultant to the Hawaii Educational Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization.