Hawaii charter schools need more freedom from the BOE
Editor's note: At a legislative hearing last Monday, Board of Education member Cec Heftel testified in favor of a charter school bill giving these schools greater freedom from BOE control by placing them under the immediate supervision of a review panel that would report to the board. He emphasized that he was testifying as an individual, since the board had voted to oppose the bill.
The following is his testimony.
MR. Chairman and committee members: After two years as a member of the Board of Education, I have learned the role that you have played in the Legislature in making it possible for the charter schools to grow and serve those children who best learn in the charter school environment. It has been almost a 10-year struggle for the charter schools to maximize their performance on behalf of our children. As we all know, the children have performed well in this nurturing environment. In this light, Rep. Roy Takumi's House Bill 594 and Sen. Norman Sakamoto's companion Senate Bill 603 are critical to the continued growth and protection of the schools.
It is important that the public realize that the future of the charters is now in the hands of the Legislature, where the charters were born, and that there has been conflict to keep the charter schools under the control of the Board of Education. These bills represent a quantum leap forward for the charters. They remove the direct control of the charter schools from the Board of Education, on which I serve, and move them to the direct control of the newly formed review panel.
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. These bills rectify that dilemma and make it clear that the review panel is intended to proudly proclaim their support and belief in the charter schools. The review panel would actually continue to report to the Board of Education, but not in a manner detrimental to the charters' success.
It was not easy for me to come here today to speak as a private citizen, not as a member of the board; but when an overwhelming percentage of board members voted against these bills and rejected their intent, I knew that I had to speak out in opposition. And that is what I am doing. The Legislature and this committee need no insight or advice from me. You are the reason the charters are here. You are the leaders and advocates of the charters. I don't want you to hesitate to continue to aggressively pursue that noble dedication to their mission. It is still very much needed.
At the present time, we are well aware of what happened to Jim Shon, the former director of the charter schools; but what we don't know is that the temporary director, Maunalei Love, is being subjected to the same kind of personal micromanagement. I am not sure whether she wants to remain in her present position of interim director or would consider becoming the permanent director. I do know that the next permanent director must have at least a firm four-year contract, not unlike the contract under which our superintendent, Pat Hamamoto, operates. Maunalei has not gone public with her grievances, but she has reason to be disturbed. At the present time, I think she is torn between her concern for the charters and the demands and controls of the Board of Education. You are the leaders who initiated the charter schools, and you have now recognized the need to remove them from the direct and detrimental control of the Board of Education.
It is imperative that the public be informed of what is now occurring and that this legislation, which unfortunately is opposed by the Board of Education, must be passed into law. Anything less would be unfair to the children, teachers and principals in the charter movement. Over the past years, many letters to the editor eloquently reflect the fact that a good percentage of the public is concerned about the situation surrounding our charter schools.
I have spent enough time with the president of the state Senate, Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, to know that the Senate could not have elected a person more dedicated to the cause of charter schools. I think that her leadership in having this legislation passed could be extremely important for us all, and I express my great respect for the endeavor of the chairmen of the House and Senate Education Committees for having proposed this indispensable reform in the system under our present constitutional constraints.
I hope that you will succeed in passing this legislation and that you will fight any forces which try to interfere with its successful implementation into law.
Cec Heftel is a state Board of Education member.