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House moves schools bill


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POSTED: Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lawmakers are advancing a proposal to let Hawaii's public schools superintendent replace staff at campuses that repeatedly flunk federal education goals.

Despite opposition from unions concerned that the measure would violate employees' rights, House Bill 172 cleared its first hurdle yesterday when it passed joint education and labor committees. It still needs several more approvals before becoming law.

The bill would allow the schools superintendent, with Board of Education approval, to replace workers at public schools under so-called restructuring for four years or longer, change membership of school community councils and hand over control of the campus to private companies.

Under the No Child Left Behind law, restructuring is imposed on schools that miss rising benchmarks — from test participation and scores to graduation and retention rates — for four or more years, triggering wide reforms to help raise student achievement at state expense.

The number of Hawaii schools being restructured — the harshest penalty of the law — rose to 78 from 48 in the past year. To exit the sanctions, schools need to meet goals for two straight years.

The federal mandate calls for every child to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Hawaii Government Employees Association object to a provision in the bill allowing the schools superintendent to overhaul schools “;notwithstanding collective-bargaining agreements.”;

Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto has emphasized the Education Department would consult with unions to lay out a process to reconstitute failing schools.

The measure was amended yesterday so that workers dismissed from a troubled school would be moved to other jobs in the Education Department “;for which they are qualified.”;

Hamamoto said the plan seeks to reassign educators who might not be the right fit for a particular school.

Before asking the school board that a struggling school be reconstituted, the Education Department would need to analyze its reading and math test scores and the number of highly qualified teachers employed, and consult with the community and administrators.

School board Chairman Garrett Toguchi said he supports the option to reconstitute schools because it is likely that all campuses could soon face sanctions and need drastic intervention to keep up with the strict requirements of the federal law.

“;When we have schools that for four years have not made the kind of progress that is significant, then we've got to think about what's next,”; Hamamoto said. “;Reconstitution is a what-next option.”;