Thursday, April 15, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

School tax plan
doomed this year

The focus shifts to whether
the Board of Education should
be appointed, an idea rejected
in the past by Hawaii voters

Bullet Juvenile crime prevention praise
Bullet Department nominees approved

By Christine Donnelly


A state Senate bid to give the Board of Education taxing power is doomed as the House shifts the debate back to whether the board should be appointed rather than elected.

While the Senate plan "stemmed from a sincere desire to improve schools," it generated too many problems to solve this session, House Speaker Calvin Say said last night.

"We will take a serious look at it in conference, but personally I want to refocus on the House's original intent" to switch to a school board appointed by the governor, he said, adding that House and Senate conferees would likely convene next week to hash out differences.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature On Tuesday, the state Senate approved a sweeping measure introduced by President Norman Mizuguchi that would have given the Board of Education total control of Hawaii's public schools, including financing them by raising income and retail sales taxes and floating bonds.

Consolidating authority would make the board solely responsible for public education and improve on the current system, which has the Department of Education answering to the school board, the governor's office and the Legislature, Mizuguchi said. With such fractured oversight, no group is accountable for the faltering schools, which rank among the worst in the nation on reading and math scores.

Although hailed by school board members and the education unions, the proposal would overburden taxpayers, said tax experts and business owners.

"The public response is very negative because they're afraid of the taxing power given to the board. Why would we want to give another agency the power to levy a tax? It's not in the best interests of the state right now," said Say, who also worried it might set a dangerous precedent for other state departments wanting more money.

The Senate plan also would have radically altered Hawaii's political landscape, stripping power from the Legislature -- which currently devotes about 35 percent of the state budget to lower education -- and handing it to the heretofore weak school board.

Say heard from lawmakers who disliked that prospect. "The message was, 'Why run for public office if you can't do anything about public education?' To abdicate our powers to an elected board on taxation -- it was just, wow!"

Karen Knudsen, vice chairwoman of the school board, said she was grateful Mizuguchi had at least broached the subject. "I was afraid to hope too much because it was such a bold thing for him to do given the tax fears and political concerns," she said.

She stressed that school boards all over the United States have the ability to raise taxes and float bonds, and answer directly to voters when they do so. "We need to educate people that this is not such a strange idea and that it would improve the schools for our kids by focusing responsibility."

Knudsen lamented Say's desire to resurrect the idea of an appointed school board, which has been rejected by voters in the past. "I was afraid of this, that you get people all hysterical at the thought of a school board that can raise taxes and then come out and say the only answer is to appoint them."

John Friedman, legislative liaison of the Hawaii Congress of Parents, Teachers and Students, said the 40,000-member group opposes the Senate proposal and any push for an appointed board.

Although intrigued by Mizuguchi's idea, there were too many unresolved issues to "support it at this point," Friedman said. "We want a lot more answers first. But we're certainly happy they're looking for ways to make radical, positive changes to the education system. We hope the dialogue continues."

Say said that after this session ends, the Legislature's finance and education committees would publicly discuss the Mizuguchi proposal and the idea of an appointed school board. An appointed board, which Gov. Ben Cayetano also supports, would concentrate accountability in the executive branch, Say said. Information gathered at that hearing would be used to frame the debate next session, he said.

"Education reform isn't dead," Say said. "We just have a lot more work to do."

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Lawmakers praise juvenile
crime prevention programs

By Ben DiPietro
Associated Press


A report showing reduced gang activity and less youth crime in Hawaii since the start of the decade means similar prevention programs need to be tried in other areas, lawmakers said.

It's foolish to spend more money on treatment programs that deal with problems after the fact instead of spending money up front on prevention, said Rep. Dennis Arakaki, whose Human Services Committee held a briefing yesterday on the report for lawmakers.

Arakaki (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley) pointed to the so-called Felix consent decree, a court-ordered supervision of special needs students that costs the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

It's better to fund programs like A+ after-school care that keep kids out of trouble than it is to pay for programs like Felix later, Arakaki said.

"Felix is a good example. We're forced to spend money on kids who have these psycho-social problems, when in fact a lot of these problems could be avoided or lessened had they had these type of support services early on," Arakaki said. "Not just for the child, but for the family and the community as well."

A study prepared for the Legislature by University of Hawaii researchers and released in late January shows an 18 percent decrease in juvenile arrests since 1994 and a decline in youth gang membership in the past 10 years.

The report also shows a 46 percent increase in juvenile violent crime arrests the past decade, an 85 percent hike in robbery arrests in that same period and a sharp jump in the number of girls committing crimes.

Study author Meda Chesney-Lind and others said school administrators need to work more closely with agencies and parents when appropriate to develop ways to engage problem students, rather than just suspending them and putting them out on the street with nowhere to go.

"It doesn't just take a village to raise a kid, it takes a village to fix a kid," added Chesney-Lind, who says media images glorifying gang-affiliated fashions and music make big impressions on youths seeking identities and acceptance they may not be getting at home.

The media celebrate a "subculture of basically criminal involvement," she said. "Kids from poor families want that stuff other kids can buy."

That point was emphasized by Kellet Hussey, director of a youth community project in Palolo, who said many kids gravitate to gangs for a sense of belonging they don't get from parents who work too much to spend time with them or from parents who just don't care.

What happens in many cases, Hussey said, is that a gang saddles a youth with its identity. "If I'm a gangster outside, you're going to form the identity I want," Hussey said.

Panel approves
department nominees

By Craig Gima


Gov. Ben Cayetano's nominees to head the departments of Human Services and Health are expected to be confirmed by the Senate next week.

The Senate Human Services Committee yesterday recommended confirmation of Susan Chandler to head the Department of Human Services and Bruce Anderson to be director of the Health Department.

Both nominees were praised by dozens of people who testified at hearings last month. But committee Vice Chairman Randy Iwase (D, Mililani) and some members of the public also raised questions about some highly publicized child abuse cases, where the Child Protective Services agency within Chandler's department returned children to parents who continued to abuse them.

Committee Chairwoman Suzanne Chun Oakland said Chandler has been working with her committee to improve Child Protective Services and has streamlined the Department of Human Services to address welfare reform, the Quest health program and other department divisions.

"I don't think people realize the scope of her responsibility," Chun Oakland said.

Iwase is still reviewing materials given to him by Chandler to answer some of the questions he raised at her confirmation hearing, Chun Oakland said, and he has not made up his mind about whether he will oppose Chandler's nomination.

Chandler said her department has a plan to improve Child Protective Services and she is looking forward to implementing it.

Also yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended confirmation of two new Circuit Court judges, Gary Won Bae Chang and Joseph Cardoza, and a District Court judge, Calvin Murashige.

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