School principals
bill gets derailed

House committees block Lingle's
efforts to remove principals from unions

By Susan Essoyan

Two House committees shot down Gov. Linda Lingle's proposal to remove public school principals from their union yesterday, saying it could violate state law and cripple recruitment efforts.

The bill was a key component of the governor's education package, which is running into rough waters at the Legislature.

"We want our best and brightest to be our principals," said Russell Okata, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association. "Taking away their collective-bargaining rights will destroy their already weakening morale."

The decision by the Committee on Labor and Public Employment and the Committee on Education to hold the bill effectively kills it in the House this session. A companion Senate bill has not been scheduled for a hearing.

The committees also voted down proposals by the governor to replace the tenure system for principals with performance-based contracts and exempt charter school employees from collective bargaining.

Members of Lingle's Cabinet and the Chamber of Commerce argued that principals do not belong in a union because they are executives, not just managers.

"It makes for better management when you have the top-line people out of the union," said Kathleen Watanabe, director of the Department of Human Resources Development. "It takes away the constraints."

The administration had the backing of Republican members of the committee but was outnumbered by a throng of principals and others, including the Board of Education, who lined up against the bill. Hawaii's principals have been unionized for more than 30 years.

The Department of Education faces a severe shortage of administrators that threatens to worsen, with more than half of those on the job either already at retirement age or near it.

"Last year, Kalani High School went the entire year without any vice principals," Randiann Porras-Tang, Kalani's principal, testified yesterday. "This year, Aikahi Elementary, a two-time Blue Ribbon School, advertised its vacant principal position three times and received no applicants each time."

Porras-Tang spoke in favor of a bill to allow a larger retirement allowance for principals and vice principals, which did pass the committee yesterday. The panel also approved a bill appropriating $48 million for teacher salary increases tied to experience, which the teachers union said were negotiated but not funded. Both bills were opposed by the administration.

Rep. Mark Moses (R, Makakilo-Kapolei) expressed frustration with the committee's decisions, saying the governor's bills should be kept moving because they are part of a systemwide change she is seeking for the public schools. "If you start killing pieces of it, the whole package may not work," he said.

But Committee Co-chairman Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) concluded that "there isn't any compelling evidence for making these major changes." He also said the state Constitution gives public employees the right to collective bargaining.

Another key part of the governor's education agenda, her proposal for locally elected school boards, appears to be stalled in the House. The Education Committee deferred House Bill 1082 last week. Chairman Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades) said there was plenty of time to consider it later, since it requires a constitutional amendment that would not go on the ballot until fall 2004.

"We have the rest of this whole year to think about it, reflect on it, refine it," he said. "Constitutional amendment bills historically are taken up in the second year of the session."

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