Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Kamehameha raise
raises deja vu flag

DEJA vu smacked me across the face like a flounder when I learned of plans to nearly double the salaries of trustees of Bishop Estate, uh, excuse me, Kamehameha Schools.

And when I learned why each trustee should now be paid nearly $200,000 a year (they work harder than other trustees, it's a complicated job, the estate gets sued all the time, etc.), I felt I really had stepped back in time; back to the bad old days of the estate when it was well on its way to becoming the corrupt cash cow to politically well-connected politicians and lawyers it eventually became. When talk turns to the welfare of trustees instead of the students, look out.

Before the ouster of the "million dollar babies" board of trustees a few years ago and the magical transformation of the foundation from tarnished Bishop Estate to noble Kamehameha Schools, there was an army of court-appointed masters, PR flaks and "independent" report-writers making up excuses as to why trustees of a charitable organization set up to educate indigent children were the highest paid volunteers in the world. Everything that was being said then is now being said to justify a recommendation that the trustees salaries increase from $97,500 to $180,000 a year.

NOW, $180,000 might sound reasonable for trustees overseeing a $5.7 billion estate, but it isn't. How much is reasonable? How about zero? When are people going to understand that this is a charity and that trustees should be appointed to help the schools, not have a well-paying career.

Previous trustee compensation was $180,000, then $300,000, then $350,000 and then, well, then the trustees quit saying how much they made. Then the media forced them to disclose their salaries under an obscure IRS provision (probate court curiously declined involvement) and we watched in amazement as trustee salaries skyrocketed to nearly a million smackeroos.

And why were they worth that much? Because they spend "far greater than double the amount of time spent by most corporate directors and trustees of large foundations," "admission policies are complex" and lawsuits against the estate are causing "substantial demands" on the trustees.

Wait. Those are the excuses being laid out now for why the trustees deserve a raise. But they're identical to the explanations of 20 years ago. And just as wrong. To begin with, these trustees don't work any harder or are sued any more than the trustees of the Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania. Trustees of that school, with a $5 billion endowment, get only about $35,000 a year. The school was set up by chocolate king Milton Hershey in 1909 for the education of "poor orphaned white boys."

Hershey School eventually did away with the racial preference and now allows admission to children of all races and genders. Ironically, Kamehameha trustees are in a similar race-preference battle. But that's what they get paid for, and more than enough.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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