Debate on school
structure should
produce results


The state schools superintendent has asked legislators to allow the Department of Education to operate independent of other agencies and give local schools more power.

SCHOOLS Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto is asking the Legislature to allow significant changes in Hawaii's school system, but she opposes Governor Lingle's proposal for breaking up the single statewide district. Hamamoto announced an "education summit" in March to decide how to "reinvent" the school system. The summit should not be a pep rally for conclusions Hamamoto already has drawn but an open exchange of ideas leading to a formula for improvement in education.

The governor should study Hamamoto's proposal with the goal of reaching a compromise. The schools superintendent and legislators should be just as flexible. If no common ground can be found on the basic structure of the school system, Lingle's plan for education reform should be placed before the voters in November as a proposed constitutional amendment allowing numerous districts.

In an unprecedented address to a joint session of the Legislature -- at her request -- Hamamoto called Hawaii's school system "obsolete," even though "we have been changing this bureaucracy" during her two-year reign. Former Gov. Ben Cayetano at one point proposed breaking up the system into four school districts, and Lingle advocates seven, each with its own school board.

Hamamoto contended such a breakup would "add more layers of bureaucracy between our state school board and the schools." In last week's State of the State address to legislators, Lingle referred to studies that she says show smaller school districts perform better than larger ones.

Hamamoto asked legislators to "unshackle" the school system from other state agencies. The plea has been made by a succession of superintendents and is likely to face stiff opposition from the state bureaucracy. The Department of Education rightfully deserves more control over construction, repair and maintenance of school facilities, especially at the school level.

The superintendent called for "lump-sum funding directly to the schools" for their operation, similar to the way Lingle envisions direct funding to the seven districts. Under Hamamoto's plan, each school would have a "board of directors" elected by parents, staff, teachers, principals and older students. The directors would have "meaningful responsibilities over spending," she said, resulting in "local school governance at the most basic and important level."

She also would give principals authority equivalent to "CEOs in private business," but without the same level of accountability. Incredibly, and unlike CEOs in any business, Hawaii's school principals are unionized, and Hamamoto knows better than to antagonize the state's powerful public-employee unions by suggesting otherwise.

She talked of rewarding "top performers" in the job of principal and moving "non-performers to another line of work" while "respecting collective bargaining and in cooperation with our partners in organized labor." That is nothing more than wishful thinking and a promise needed to gain the favor of organized labor, which opposes Lingle's plan.



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