[ OUR OPINION ]
Put proposal to revamp
school system to voters
GOVERNOR Lingle presented a comprehensive and thoughtful agenda to the state Legislature in her State of the State address. Her proposals are bolstered by an economy that she said is "starting to rebound" and focus on education reform as her top priority. Democrats who control the Legislature have a responsibility to find what Lingle called "common ground" where it can be attained and allow voters to decide the major point of disagreement -- whether to break apart the nation's only statewide school district.
Governor Lingle has asked legislators to endorse education reform and enact laws to improve the economy, the environment and health care.
Lingle said it is "time to stop tinkering and instead restructure our school system," for years ranked at or near the bottom of the nation in student test scores. A major plank of her 2000 gubernatorial campaign platform was creation of seven school districts, each with its own elected board, to replace the statewide district governed by the state Board of Education.
Last year's Legislature rejected her proposal, which would require a state constitutional amendment. House Speaker Calvin Say, while giving lip service to education reform, told his colleagues in the opening day of this year's session that he remains opposed to Lingle's plan, contending that "more school boards will bring more bureaucracy and reduce already strained resources in our classrooms."
"Those claims are simply not true," Lingle responded in her speech. "National studies consistently find that smaller school districts perform better than larger ones. In a small district, decision-making is simpler, faster and more in tune with the community." Instead of again reaching a stalemate on the issue, Lingle said, "Let the people decide" by putting a proposed constitutional amendment on November's ballot.
Lingle and the Legislature are more agreeable in other areas, such as combating the spread of crystal methamphetamine. Lawmakers should accept her proposal to allow police to use wiretaps, as federal authorities already do, to go after drug traffickers.
After initially stating her opposition, the governor has agreed to support Hawaii Rx, patterned after a Maine program, to use the state's buying power under Medicaid to negotiate bulk discounts from pharmaceutical companies. The Hawaii law, enacted two years ago, needs amending to establish a cap on eligibility. Lingle proposes that it "focus on families who meet the federal poverty guidelines," while AARP has suggested a cap of 350 percent of the poverty line, or $34,500 for a single person and $76,000 for a family of four. Lingle should yield once again on this issue.
Among her sound proposals are providing tax relief for low- income families, lowering business registration and other fees to make Hawaii more "business friendly" and allowing the state insurance commissioner to investigate workers-compensation fraud.
The governor also deserves high environmental marks for suggesting deadlines for increased use of renewable energy sources, proposing a $20 million, four-year attack on invasive species and making major improvements on state parks and small-boat harbors. Legislators should have no problem agreeing to those.