Friday, October 19, 2001

LeMahieu quits

The Board of Education accepts
the resignation effective immediately

By Crystal Kua

Work to implement educational standards in public school classrooms and improve special education services will continue even though the man with the vision has departed.

That's the reaction from folks in the schools this morning after hearing that Paul LeMahieu has resigned as chief of Hawaii's 183,000-student public school system.

"The direction and everything, I think, is still there. Though the leader will be changing, I think that there's still enough direction on where it needs to go," said Nancy Tolbert, a special education teacher at Kahaluu Elementary School.

"The people in the trenches are still going to carry out their duties and that's the important factor -- our work goes on and we're not going to stop," she said.

THE CAUSE: Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu resigns as a legislative committee investigates his relationship with a Felix service provider

REACTIONS: Teachers say his vision will be carried out; Cayetano says, 'If I were in his place, I'd do the same thing.'

WHAT'S NEXT: The BOE has yet to discuss the search for a new schools chief

Gov. Ben Cayetano said it's unfortunate that LeMahieu left before completing his work. He said LeMahieu, who called him before handing his resignation, worked hard to put accountability into the school system. LeMahieu seemed firm in his decision. "If I were in his place, I would do the same thing," Cayetano said.

He tried to make changes but encountered resistance by the old network, said Cayetano, who added that he's confident Deputy Superintendent Pat Hamamoto can finish the job with the Felix consent decree. LeMahieu stepped down last night amid allegations of improper conduct that surfaced in a legislative investigative committee.

LeMahieu maintained that the allegations surrounding his "relationship" with Kaniu Kinimaka-Stocksdale, owner of a Hilo company that received a Department of Education contract, are not true, but acknowledged that they could have affected his ability to lead the public school system.

"It's possible to be guilty of no wrongdoing and still be wounded so badly by events staged as they are," he said.

LeMahieu said he let the board decide whether he could continue to lead.

"I have maintained since the day of my arrival that I wanted to do this hard work only for so long as I can be effective, only for so long as I can be of service and only for so long as I can accomplish what we agreed this place needs," LeMahieu said after emerging from a closed-door meeting with the board.

Board Chairman Herbert Watanabe said the board voted to accept his resignation and that no board member pressured him to step down. Hamamoto was named interim superintendent until next August.

"The superintendent has done a great deal for the department," Watanabe said, citing LeMahieu's work in bringing standards, assessment and accountability to the schools. "Several board members have clearly indicated ... that no one has done so much."

The joint House-Senate Investigative Committee is examining how the state departments of Education and Health are spending millions of dollars to comply with the Felix consent decree -- the federal mandate to improve mental health and educational services to special-needs students in the public schools.

LeMahieu file

Key dates in the career of Paul LeMahieu, who resigned yesterday as state schools superintendent:

June 1998: Selected as Hawaii's superintendent of education.

July 1998: Board of Education offered LaMahieu a four-year contract.

August 1999: Challenged participants at an Education Leadership Conference to embrace rigorous standards for public schools in Hawaii.

November 1999: Elected to the National Teaching Board. Received a "more than satisfactory" rating in his first annual job evaluation.

August 2000: U.S. District Judge David Ezra issued a court order detailing conditions of 18-month extension of Felix Consent Decree and assigned DOE and DOH to work on compliance of the Felix Consent Decree.

April 2001: Worked along with state and federal negotiators to bargain with the Hawaii State Teachers Association to settle a 20-day statewide teachers strike.

Sources: Star-Bulletin archives and Department of Education Website.

The committee has been asking questions about whether LeMahieu's "relationship" with Kinimaka-Stocksdale led to her company, Na Laukoa, receiving a DOE contract to help schools comply with the consent decree.

Testimony at committee hearings has described the relationship as "personal." LeMahieu said the allegations are not true and that the company received the contract because he and others believed it could do the job.

He said that while the panel has offered no concrete evidence of any wrongdoing and will find no evidence of wrongdoing, concerns have been raised in many quarters, including on the BOE.

Kinimaka-Stocksdale is scheduled to testify before the committee tomorrow morning.

In Hilo, several teachers said Le Mahieu had been performing well.

"I felt that LeMahieu was doing a good job considering the crises and school improvement (requirements) that had been thrust upon him," said Pahoa Elementary School counselor Elinor Wolff.

Despite reporting on LeMahieu's alleged relationship with Kinimaka-Stocksdale, no one has commented on whether her company has done a good job, Wolff said.

Her own observation is, "We're doing a fantastic job in the schools now."

LeMahieu was hired by the BOE in 1998, and his contract was scheduled to expire in 10 months.

His two main tasks were to bring standards-based education and work toward compliance with the Felix decree.

Jeff Moore, a librarian at Kaaawa Elementary, said that standards-based is a national trend that Hawaii is now a part of. "It's here to stay."

Linda Longi, an educational aid, agreed. " 'Cause we've been working hard on it ourselves. Can't throw it out now. All that hard work? Don't you dare."

Hawaii State Teachers Association executive director Joan Husted said that she's disappointed because she felt the board didn't have to accept his resignation.

She said teachers will be wary at the prospect of having to follow yet another new superintendent.

Star-Bulletin reporter Treena Shapiro contributed to this report.

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