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Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Education reform bills
killed by Democrats

Bullet The issue: House Democrats have rejected two Republican bills to reform public education.

Bullet Our view: The measures -- to create eight school divisions overseen by eight boards of education, and to take school principals out of their union -- had a potential to improve education.

TWO measures that could improve Hawaii public schools have been voted down by the House Democratic majority, but they will be back. Both would require change, and change is difficult.

The Democrats have become the party of the status quo. The Republican minority used its new clout to pull these bills out of the House Education Committee for floor debates and votes.

A perennial criticism of Hawaii's school system is that it is overcentralized -- one system for the entire state. The Republican proposal would divide the school system into eight divisions, overseen by eight boards of education.

As a sponsor, Republican Rep. Colleen Meyer, noted, "the government closest to the people is most responsive to their concerns."

Bringing control of the school system closer to the people will encourage them to voice their concerns and participate in the educational process. With a single board trying to oversee a statewide system, this is less likely to happen.

House Education Chairman Ken Ito argued that the boards would be expensive and create another layer of bureaucracy. But the current system is actually more expensive because it lacks the flexibility that decentralization would bring and that effective education requires.

One size doesn't fit all. Any savings the current system brings are illusory because the product is inferior. Having school boards on each island may cost a little more but it promises to produce dividends in improved schools.

The other bill that was killed would have ended union representation for public school principals. They would receive raises of at least 20 percent and be hired under limited-term contracts. Principals are currently represented by the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

In defense of the proposal, Meyer maintained that "principals are the CEOs of the school. They need flexibility, and need to be accountable."

But Ito said the bill unfairly makes principals the "scapegoats" for the failures of the public school system and punishes them by forcing them out of the union.

Principals don't belong in a union. They are managers.

They should be striving for innovative ways to improve their schools, not invoking union rules to thwart reform. They should be paid better, but they should be held responsible for the performance of their schools -- not protected from the consequences of failure by the union.

If Hawaii's public schools are to improve, decentralization of the school board and taking principals out of the union are probably essential. The Democrats haven't gotten the message, but they will.

Thai prime minister
may have been target

Bullet The issue: A bomb exploded on an airliner in Bangkok just before the prime minister was about to board.

Bullet Our view: The bomb apparently was intended to kill the prime minister.

THAILAND has a history of coups but the nation has experienced political stability under a succession of democratic governments for the last eight years. However, the explosion of a bomb on a jetliner just before Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was about to board appears to have been an attempt to assassinate the Thai leader. If so, that stability is threatened.

Thaksin took power last month after his party won general elections by an unprecedented margin. He had campaigned on a populist platform, including an end to corruption and a promise to revive the sluggish economy. However, Thaksin faces questions about corruption himself.

Thailand's defense minister said the blast was caused by a bomb that included sophisticated plastic explosives. The Thai Airways plane exploded in flames near a boarding gate 35 minutes before Thaksin and 148 other passengers were due to fly from Bangkok to the northern city of Chiang Mai.

One cabin crew member was killed and seven other airline staff injured. No passengers had boarded the plane when the bomb went off.

Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said that investigations had shown the bomb "was certainly C-4," and he noted that only highly placed organizations or international terrorists would have access to the high-quality, military-grade plastic explosive. But the minister said it was too early to be sure that the prime minister was the target.

Thaksin suggested that if he was the target, attackers would have had inside information about his schedule, as he had originally planned to go to Chiang Mai on Sunday but told his secretary Friday to change the flight to Saturday afternoon.

Local media have speculated the attack could be linked to Thaksin's pledge to stem the trade in heroin and methamphetamines, largely blamed on drug lords in neighboring Myanmar, also known as Burma. Thaksin said the incident would not scare the government from pressing ahead with its "urgent agenda" in cracking down on drug syndicates.

Thaksin pressed ahead with his work schedule yesterday, with tighter security provided by the police special branch. He is now using a bullet-proof car.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have sent representatives to Thailand. Their expert assistance could help Thai officials get to the bottom of this case and perhaps avert an eruption of terrorism that could destabilize the country.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

Frank Bridgewater, Acting Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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