School reform
turns to Senate

House members rejected
Gov. Lingle's proposal for
seven local school boards

Now that the House has rejected Gov. Linda Lingle's proposal to have voters decide whether to dismantle the state Board of Education and create seven smaller local school boards, Republicans are hoping to put pressure on the Senate to keep the measure alive.

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Lingle said yesterday that House lawmakers "missed an important opportunity for genuine restructuring" of Hawaii's public school system.

"They also demonstrated their lack of faith in the voters of Hawaii by failing to place on the November ballot our proposal for the creation of local school boards," Lingle said in a written statement from Washington, where she is attending the National Governors Association meeting.

The House, in a 30-20, largely partisan vote late Friday night, defeated her proposal to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to decide the fate of the state's centralized school board.

Two Republican senators who back the governor's school-reform efforts said yesterday that it will take a public outcry to move the Democratic majority of the Legislature to act on the matter this session.

"If the public really considers education reform to be No. 1 priority, they need to let their legislators know that," said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai).

If voters don't get a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment, "this could play out as the No. 1 issue next election," said Sen. Bob Hogue (R, Kaneohe).

People will have an opportunity to testify on education reform in the Senate before the session closes May 6, said Senate Education Committee Chairman Norman Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake).

However, "I think the proposal she had with seven departments of education didn't make sense," Sakamoto said of Lingle's bill, which he hasn't heard in his committee. "The House apparently feels that it doesn't make sense either. ... I think people should look at what makes sense."

Rep. Mark Takai (D, Newtown-Pearl City) started the debate on House Bill 2332, HD 1, Friday night by calling into question the study Lingle relies on in her push for locally elected school boards. He said there is no compelling evidence that shows that smaller school districts lead to improved student achievement.

"This bill does not get us where we want to be," Takai said.

Rep. Guy Ontai (R, Waipahu-Mililani) conceded that while no report shows a cause and effect between smaller school boards and student achievement, there is a correlation between smaller school boards and higher test scores.

"If you are looking for either student achievement, or more responsiveness, or accountability, or just a word or even parent participation, all of those things can be answered with a local elected school board," Ontai said.

The bill also contained Lingle's proposal to replace the Department of Education with an appointed statewide education standards commission.

Except for six Democrats who voted in favor of the bill, the vote fell along party lines. Thirteen of the 14 Republicans in the House voted in favor of the bill. Rep. David Pendleton (D, Maunawili-Kaneohe) was not present for the vote.

The House instead approved the Democrats' education reform package, House Bill 2002, HD 1, to decentralize school decisions and budgeting through school-community councils and a student-weighted funding formula.

The House also approved House Bill 1895, HD 1, which would create elected boards at each public school, but Lingle said they would be essentially advisory. "This amounts to no more than changing the tires on an old school bus when the engine needs a complete overhaul," she said.

House lawmakers also approved three other constitutional amendment proposals:

>> House Bill 33, HD 2, would give the BOE and schools superintendent control over management and operations of the public schools, similar to the autonomy exercised by the University of Hawaii president and Board of Regents.

>> House Bill 1897, HD 1, would allow candidates 16 years or older to run for a regular seat on the BOE.

>> House Bill 2184, HD 1, would expand the BOE to 17 members, each elected by and representing three state House districts.

The representatives sent back to committee a sixth constitutional amendment on education, House Bill 2589, HD 1, which would have prohibited the governor from vetoing items appropriated for public schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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