Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, April 7, 1999

Deja vu on
public school reforms

IF we lived in a Saturday morning cartoon world, we would all be listening to the latest debate on education reform, slapping our foreheads, which would resonate like big gongs and a exaggerated "Huh?" would appear over our heads.

There is an unreal feeling about this debate. State Senate President Norman Mizuguchi says we have to move fast. He proposes turning public education over to the school board members and letting them raise taxes if needed.

This first surfaced five years ago when then-Gov. John Waihee, fed up with the political gamesmanship being played with education, proposed it in his last days.

Cayetano echoed that sentiment by saying we need to move fast on education; we have already lost a generation of public school students to a mediocre system. In order to move fast, Cayetano says, we should get a task force to study the Mizuguchi proposal, which has already been around for five years and will take another five years to gear up.

Cayetano likes an appointed school board, not an elected one. That would focus attention on getting the best people appointed and if it didn't work out you could blame the governor, Cayetano explains.

Following that reasoning, it is amazing that Cayetano still has a State Capitol parking space. After all he appoints the University of Hawaii regents, for the very same university system that is making news because nationally ranked researchers are bailing out, saying the state doesn't support higher education.

With the University of Hawaii in such desperate condition, why would he think that placing his guiding hand on the public schools would make things better?

Mizuguchi's idea has merit, but five years is too long to wait for someone to take responsibility for our schools.

Cayetano, already on the right track by stepping up the pressure on the Legislature to accomplish something, needs to push for results this year.

After two decades in public service, after being closely associated with most of the in-state educational establishment, having the former superintendent of education as his campaign confidant, having an influential member of the Board of Regents on his executive office staff and having the former chairman of the Education and Higher Education Committees in his cabinet, Cayetano should have been closer to the ground as Hawaii developed into educational crisis.

The same should go for Mizuguchi, who claims an education background and is a former Education Committee chairman. His wife also is a former University of Hawaii regent.

First, the state's leaders have to convince the tax-paying public, parents included, that Hawaii doesn't need good schools. It needs excellent schools, it needs to lead the country in National Merit Scholar finalists, it needs to have every school with a majority of its kids scoring above average in the SAT tests, it needs to have such a reputation for public education that when visitors leave they say, "Hawaii is beautiful, but you know that place has the best schools in the country."

When the public library can stay open as many hours as Longs, when Punahou, Iolani and Mid-Pacific Institute say enrollment is dropping because the middle class has moved back to public schools, when the federal courts are ordering other states to follow the "Hawaii model," then Cayetano, Mizuguchi and the others can rest.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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