Sunday, October 21, 2001

Paul LeMahieu’s resignation
bodes ill for public schools

The issue: The departing superintendent
loses his struggle to tame an unwieldy
system burdened with problems.

The resignation of superintendent Paul LeMahieu deals a serious blow to Hawaii's beleaguered public schools, one that could drive the system further into the ground or could be seized as an opportunity for deep examination and true reform.

Governor Cayetano, who in the last month has shown his abilities as a leader in crisis, should now use those skills to extract public education from its quagmire. As he has done with the state's economic emergency, the governor should gather teachers, parents, legislators, principals, students, the school board, business leaders, colleges and university administrators and the public to take a hard look at how the system works and how it doesn't, then formulate a plan to fix it. For too long, both policymakers and citizens have allowed public schools to wallow in bewildering disorganization, layers of unyielding bureaucracy and chaotic funding priorities.

Although LeMahieu's departure comes in the midst of an investigation of how funds are being spent for special education and allegations of inappropriate conduct, there's little doubt that a cumulative measure of frustration played a role in his decision to tender his resignation.

While some have questioned his capacity for the job, LeMahieu has had to wrangle with court-ordered mandates for special education, a divisive, rancorous teachers' strike and severe budget cuts, all the while attempting to establish necessary educational standards, a baseline test for student performance and myriad other duties of a school superintendent. Any one of these would have been enough to keep him hopping and the Senate panel's inquiry may have just been the straw that broke him.

LeMahieu came to the job in 1998, bearing fine credentials as a researcher and consultant. Although he had done some work for the Department of Education previously, he was apparently unprepared to handle the complexity of school governance in which he answered to politicians and the Board of Education through a diffused definition of duties. He also encountered an institution populated by entrenched employees unwilling to yield to change.

LeMahieu made good attempts to create some order in the department, but he inherited a system already in disarray with parents complaining about the poor quality of education their children were receiving, teachers unhappy with low pay, lawmakers stepping away from adequate funding and an elected school board whose constituencies divided its attention.

LeMahieu isn't blameless in this mess, but neither are we all. Politicians, school administrators, teachers, parents, board members and citizens have together let the quality of educational quality slip lower and lower. We can declare LeMahieu's resignation a failure of one man or we can recognize that the entire community has failed and that the consequence is every child who passes a day in school not learning.

The school board will likely be able to find another superintendent and the system can stumble along as it has in the past. However, the mission should not be to maintain the status quo, but to remove the obstacles that tripped LeMahieu and stride toward remaking the whole. Hawaii's children deserve no less.

Americans move on guided
by sense of rational caution

The issue: Political leaders from President
Bush to Mayor Harris have asked Americans
to be alert but to stay calm in these perilous times.

Many years ago, the football coach at Dartmouth College back east was "Tuss" McLaughry, a huge bear of a man whose gravelly voice rumbled out of the pit of his stomach. When things went wrong in practice or the players got tired, the coach didn't need a megaphone as he thundered across the playing field: "Hold your poise."

With danger threatening us from the skies, through the mails, and maybe out of nowhere, Coach McLaughry's admonition to "hold your poise" is especially pertinent. We are being asked to be on a constant lookout for people who may be planning to do harm, for packages or luggage or garbage bins left unattended or dropped in places where they shouldn't be, for powder or vials that might contain a toxic substance.

At the same time, we are being asked to keep our wits about us and to refrain from jumping at our own shadows. We are being asked to walk along the razor's edge between apathy and panic. It's not easy but it can be done. If in doubt, call the cops at 911 or the hotline, CALL-HPD, which is 225-5473. Be cool, but err on the side of prudence.

Just as our leaders have asked us to take a reasoned stand, so we ask the same of them. Too often since September 11, Americans from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, have been subjected to inconsistent and sometimes contradictory messages. At critical times, our elected leaders have not been as forthcoming as they should have been. They should stop playing games and treat Americans as the grown-ups we are.

In the same vein, public and private officials responsible for security in the airlines, athletic stadiums, buildings, auditoriums and everywhere need to get their acts together. Every day, we hear horror stories that range from a lack of scrutiny to meaningless restrictions. Americans will accept, even embrace, security precautions that make sense and are fully explained. They will not long put up with silly, bureaucratic shibai.

A word about hoaxes. They can be cruel in the best of times; in times of peril, they can be immoral and criminal. The city's prosecutor, Peter Carlisle, has promised to hunt down the perpetrators of hoaxes and to throw them in the slammer. "We will do everything we can," he has said, "so that they won't be smiling on their way to jail for five years." The prosecutor deserves all the support he can get.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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