Wednesday, December 31, 1997

Give governor power
over the public schools

AN article on this page yesterday reported the emergence of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley as one of the most effective and innovative mayors in the country. The article cited Daley's decision in 1995 to assume personal control of the Chicago school system, which had been plagued by decades of poor classroom performance and administrative chaos.

Daley installed two of his closest aides as the system's top officers. After one year, order and discipline had improved. By the end of the second year, test scores had begun to rise.

This fall, the article said, "Daley sent a powerful signal when the school board dismissed dozens of high-school faculty members, including some senior teachers, in schools where no progress had been made."

Could that happen in Hawaii? No way!

The school system here, of course, is operated by the state, not the city. But the governor has nothing to do with its administration. The superintendent of schools is not responsible to the governor; he works for the Board of Education, an elected body which also is not responsible to the governor.

Because public interest in elections to the school board is weak and turnout sparse, the teachers union wields considerable influence over the results of those elections. It is hard to imagine the board ordering the superintendent to fire ineffective teachers, as happened in Chicago.

Having the governor appoint the members of the Board of Education would give the state's chief executive some power over the administration of the schools. This proposal has been rejected in the past in the misguided belief that the current system is more democratic. There is nothing democratic about denying the chief elected official of the state government authority over the school system. If the governor did have such authority, he might do something about the state of public education in Hawaii, which so many people complain about. If he didn't, the voters could justifiably blame him.

Trustees' petition

THE petition of Bishop Estate trustees Oswald Stender and Gerard Jervis for the removal of fellow trustee Lokelani Lindsey constitutes a logical followup to the report of retired judge Patrick Yim, which was highly critical of Lindsey's oversight of the Kamehameha Schools. The petition to the Circuit Court is the first of its kind in the history of the estate but it is hardly surprising in view of the heated controversy that has enveloped the trustees for months.

Some critics of the board have expressed disagreement with Stender's and Jervis' decision, contending that all of the trustees should step down. But that was not going to happen, not without a court order, which might never materialize.

Such an order could be prompted by the investigation of the attorney general, but that is still in progress and there is no indication when it will be completed. However, if the court decided to remove all or some of the trustees on the basis of the attorney general's recommendations, that would supersede the Stender-Jervis petition.

Lindsey has shamelessly denied the charges of egregious conduct leveled by Judge Yim, but her credibility has been destroyed. She succeeded in stirring up the Kamehameha Schools' alumni, parents of students and faculty into an unprecedented fury, which led to Yim's investigation.

Lindsey accused Stender of waging a campaign to discredit her, but if he did he had plenty of help from the Hawaiian community. In her attempts to rebut the charges against her she has provided further evidence of her unfitness to serve. Because only the courts can remove trustees, this petition had to be filed.

The fireworks menace

NEW Year's Eve means fireworks in Hawaii. We hope our readers will practice restraint and employ their good sense in using them tonight. There are legal restrictions on fireworks, but with so many people setting them off it's impossible for the police to make more than a gesture at enforcement.

A state law that went into effect two years ago, overriding county ordinances, banned all aerial fireworks while permiting unlimited use of other firecrackers. The law is too permissive, but legislators seem unwilling to make it tougher. The seizure of a shipment of illegal fireworks in Hilo is an indication that even the current law is being violated. What will it take to force the legislators to face up to this issue?

The law allows fireworks only from 9 tonight to 1 a.m. New Year's Day. They are banned in Waikiki, within 1,000 feet of a hospital, care home, animal shelter or church during services; within 500 feet of a hotel, or within 50 feet of a cane field or dry brush area. If you insist on setting off fireworks, please respect those restrictions.

Fireworks are a major fire hazard. Their smoke pollutes the air and their noise is a nuisance and a real problem for many pet owners. As Hawaiian Electric warns, stringing fireworks from utility poles can be a fatal mistake. Last year a Waipahu man suffered serious injuries while attempting to hang firecrackers on a rope he had draped over a power line.

Instead of setting off fireworks yourself, go to one of the public fireworks displays. They are safer and more spectacular.

And if you are looking for a safe, nonalcoholic way to welcome the new year, the First Night celebration in downtown Honolulu offers plenty of entertainment.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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