Legislature focuses on charter schools
Board members are opposing legislation giving the institutions greater autonomy
A review panel -- not the state Board of Education -- would be in charge of hiring the executive director of the Charter Schools Administrative Office and have the power to deny applications for new charters, under bills moving through the state Legislature.
The goal of the measures, which passed Education committees in the House and Senate this week, is to grant charter schools more autonomy and give the school board more time to focus on broader educational issues for all public schools.
But most school board members feel the bills are premature because they put too much responsibility on the Charter School Review Panel, an advisory group created last year by the Legislature to help formulate evaluation standards for charter schools.
Education Chairman Norman Sakamoto said he introduced Senate Bill 603, which advanced from the committee yesterday, because of concerns that the school board is not giving charters enough attention.
"It has been a struggle, a tension between who advocates and who helps the charters," he said.
As an example, Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village) said protests over the board's firing of Jim Shon last year as executive director of the Charter Schools Administrative Office could have been prevented if the panel had the power to select the executive director.
At a recent school board meeting, debate over the legislation was heated. While some members backed the initiative, agreeing that charters deserve better representation, others said if those schools want self-control, then the state Constitution should be changed to remove charters from the board's oversight.
Under the proposed measures, the school board would serve as an appeal body for schools denied charter status.
"If we can't mend the rift, then fine, cut them loose," said member Donna Ikeda. "But if you are going to cut them loose, cut them loose entirely."
In written testimony to legislators, board member Cec Heftel said "there has been conflict to keep the charter schools under the control" of the Board of Education.
"I have seen the charters suffer from the insecurity of the status quo in which they don't know whether they are tolerated or enthusiastically supported," he said.
Member Denise Matsumoto, who sits on the review panel, warned that the measures before lawmakers could create conflicts of interest. Because eight of the panel's 10 members are charter school representatives, they will likely make choices affecting their schools, she said.
Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades), who introduced House Bill 594, said that while charters make up a small percentage of all public schools, they need the extra support from a review panel with more authority because they "are new and experimental."