Thursday, February 19, 1998

Board should reassess
school chief’s contract

IN explaining his decision to resign as superintendent of schools, Herman Aizawa cited the Board of Education's refusal to give him another fixed-term contract -- in effect, a vote of confidence. Aizawa's four-year contract expires in April. In December, the board decided not to award him another long-term contract. Instead, it opted to retain the superintendent on an open-ended basis.

Evidently there was a lapse in communication, because the board was surprised by Aizawa's resignation. Aizawa presumably gave the members the impression that he had accepted the new arrangement. If so, he seems to have had second thoughts.

Aizawa said he told the board last week that the superintendent needs a multiyear commitment to follow through on such programs as his "Success Compact" and the comprehensive assessment and accountability system, which he said were essential elements of his program.

His departure ought to prompt a reconsideration of the contract policy. Previous superintendents were not given fixed-term contracts and it was something of an achievement for Aizawa to get one, but he wasn't given the renewal he wanted. The policy, aimed at providing job security, has backfired.

Aizawa's support among board members was only lukewarm. When the board decided in December on a 9-4 vote to retain him, but without another multiyear contract, it rated his performance as "satisfactory with continuing concerns."

In January, Education Week magazine gave Hawaii's school system a grade of C-minus; last year the state received a C-plus. The magazine cited low salaries, large class sizes, poor test scores and insufficient parental involvement as reasons for the slide.

In fact, Aizawa had only limited success in lifting the school system out of mediocrity. In almost half of the 26 statistical categories used to rate his effectiveness, performance has dropped below 1994 levels.

Certainly it would be unreasonable to blame him for that without taking other factors into account. The state's fiscal problems have squeezed the education budget and there are a host of other problems beyond the control of the school superintendent.

Aizawa accepted the categories as a way to rate his performance but argued that he needed more time to make improvements. The expectations as to what the superintendent can achieve are probably unrealistic, given the limitations he faces.

It's noteworthy that Aizawa seems to have more support from Governor Cayetano than from the Board of Education. Cayetano commented that Aizawa "can be rightfully proud of his years as an educator," adding that he believed "some of the initiatives that Superintendent Aizawa put in place during his tenure will prove to be beneficial for our students over time."

But Aizawa doesn't work for Cayetano. He works for the board, which is elected and independent of the governor. That's one of the problems with the current system: It denies the governor the authority he needs to manage the schools because he does not appoint the Board of Education. That has to change if Hawaii's public schools are to meet the expectations of its people. No school superintendent can introduce sweeping reforms without the political support that only the governor can provide.

Bishop trustee pay

HUMILITY is purported to be the motivation of legislators proposing creation of a task force to study the issue of compensation to the five trustees of the Bishop Estate. The issue is so complex, suggests House Judiciary Vice Chairman Brian Yamane, that legislators are ill-equipped to comprehend it. But sophistry more than humility is involved in the handling of this issue.

The problem is neither new nor incomprehensible. After the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984 rejected the Bishop Estate's appeal of the state law requiring it to offer homesites for sale to homeowners who had leases on the land, income for the heretofore strictly land-rich estate soared. Since the trustees' compensation is based on commissions from that income, Bishop Estate trusteeships suddenly became the most lucrative in the country. For fiscal year 1996, each trustee accepted $840,000. As a result, the system of paying trustees commissions on estate revenue has become inappropriate. The trusteeships have become rewards for service to the political establishment.

The decision by state Supreme Court justices to remove themselves from the trustee selection process could end the use of trusteeships as political plums. However, the excessive compensation remains a sore point among critics of the Bishop Estate, including the Kamehameha Schools parents, alumni and students comprising Na Pua A Ke Ali'i Pauahi.

Trustee Henry Peters defended the current level of compensation before the Judiciary Committee, saying the trustees had earned it by their success in managing the estate's affairs -- a judgment that few would accept in view of the recent strong criticism of the board.

The committee shelved separate proposals that would have capped trustees' salaries at triple the governor's salary or at the level of the Hawaii chief justice's. Instead it decided to create a task force to study the issue -- a time-worn method of ducking the question, perhaps until the dust has settled from current investigations that have nothing to do directly with trustee compensation. Despite the explanations committee members give for deferring a decision, the issue obviously is too hot for them to handle.

Bishop Estate Archive

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