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Monday, November 6, 2000

Campaign 2000

A Look At The Hot Races And Issues

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BOE candidates
air views on LeMahieu’s
salary, contract, standards-
based reform

Bullet General Election Guide
Bullet State Office of Elections

By Crystal Kua

THE decision by voters on who will serve on the state Board of Education could also be seen as a referendum on the future of state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu and ultimately the direction of the public school system.

"There'll be some new members on the board -- there's no question," LeMahieu said. "I have to work well with the board, whoever they are, and I intend to do that."

The winners in tomorrow's school board race will take up issues such as whether to raise the superintendent's salary, whether to extend his contract, the progress of his standards-based education agenda, and overseeing compliance of the costly federal court mandate on special education.

Because of expiring terms and resignations, nine of the 13 voting seats on the board are up for grabs -- one each for the districts of Honolulu, Leeward, Central, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island, and three for the Oahu at-large race.

"There will be a few new faces, to be sure. That means there will be some new relationships to work out, some new understandings to build. I'd like to look at that as a great opportunity for all of us to learn how to work better together," LeMahieu said.

The majority of school board candidates attended recent Star-Bulletin editorial meetings to answer questions on why they were running and on issues affecting Hawaii public schools.

Superintendent's salary

One of the primary jobs of the Board of Education is to hire -- and, if necessary, fire -- the superintendent of public schools.

LeMahieu's four-year contract is currently set to expire on Aug. 31, 2002. LeMahieu's salary was set at $90,000 when he was hired. The state Legislature raised the salary cap for the position to $150,000. The board must now decide whether to give LeMahieu a raise.

Current Board Chairman Mitsugi Nakashima said discussions on raising the superintendent's salary began at the time the board hired Herman Aizawa as schools chief five years ago.

"We advertised nationally. We did it somewhat apologetically because we could only offer $90,000 for a system that was 188,000 (in enrollment)," Nakashima said. "Ninety thousand? They'll laugh at you." Most BOE candidates believe LeMahieu should get a raise.

"When we compare the salary structure with other, similar-size school districts, we are way on the bottom," said Big Island board member Herbert Watanabe.

"For the price we pay, we lucked out on the person we've gotten," said Leeward district candidate Marilyn Harris, who is running against incumbent Ron Nakano.

Retired Honolulu Police Chief Michael Nakamura, an appointed board member in the Central district now seeking to be elected to the seat, said he supports the raise because LeMahieu has done the job.

Oahu at-large incumbent Garrett Toguchi said he is in favor of increasing the salary range from $120,000 to $150,000.

Retired Moanalua Principal Jackie Heupel said she testified before the Legislature to increase the superintendent's pay.

Contract extension

But while most candidates and current board members believe LeMahieu's salary should increase, the prospect of a contract extension is less clear.

"I've been on the board just for two months. It's going to take some time to observe, to see how his performance is within the next year," said appointed Maui board member Meyer Ueoka, who is hoping to be elected to his seat.

"He's got 18 months to go. His performance up to now has been more than satisfactory. His test scores show promising improvement, but ... I'm going to wait. He's done a whole lot, there's no doubt, but there still is a lot more to be done," Watanabe said.

Others feel that just keeping LeMahieu on the job for a while will help with reform.

"There is a critical need to keep someone in the saddle and work with them, because every time you make a change, you're creating havoc," said former state Sen. Donna Ikeda, who is running for an at-large seat.

"I think the system couldn't handle a change right now," Honolulu board member Denise Matsumoto said.

"We need to keep continuity going," Harris said.

Attorney Randall Yee, also an at-large candidate, said the superintendent would have to do a dramatic about-face in progress for him not to vote to retain him.

The only candidate who would not support either a pay raise or contract extension was Matsumoto's opponent, former public school teacher Malcolm Kirkpatrick. "I think the superintendent is taking the department in the wrong direction," he said.

'Silver bullet'

LeMahieu's three-pronged approach to reform -- establishing rigorous standards, testing students to see if they have satisfactorily met the standards, and holding schools accountable for those results -- is the cornerstone of his agenda.

Some candidates believe LeMahieu needs to show results with standards and with the horrendous task of complying with the Felix consent decree covering the improvement of services to special-needs students.

He also needs to do a better job of communicating with "the troops" in the schools and with the board, some say.

"He does have high esteem in the public, but the school people are saying, 'Become a leader for us,'" Nakashima said.

"I would suggest him working a little closer with the schools and the principals and teachers. There seems to be a little disconnect there," said Central district candidate Bert Tamaribuchi. "I think his ideas are good, but I'm of the opinion that standards-based is not the silver bullet."

Daniel Lee Romero, also running for the Central seat, said communication needs to go beyond the schools. "I support him, but he needs to also not only communicate with the teachers but he also needs to communicate with the board. ... He needs to come back to the board and let us know."

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