School board chairman
declines debate challenge

State Board of Education Chairman Breene Harimoto said yesterday he will not take up board member Laura Thielen's challenge that they debate her role in the issue of restructuring the public school system.

"I will not respond to any personal challenge. This is not a duel between two people," Harimoto said in a statement. "The board will take further action as we deem appropriate."

Thielen, a member of Gov. Linda Lingle's Citizens in Achieving Reform in Education, came under fire at a board meeting Thursday for her support of splitting the statewide Department of Education into seven local districts, each with an elected board, and eliminating the current elected Board of Education.

Thielen has been prominent in the Lingle administration's efforts to persuade the Democratic-controlled Legislature to put the issue of local school boards before voters on the November election ballot as a state constitutional amendment. The Democrats, many of whom supported such an amendment two years ago, have thus far rejected the amendment.

Harimoto and other board members at Thursday's meeting accused Thielen of making a personal attack on schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto and of "twisting the facts" in her support for local school boards.

Harimoto said Thielen violated the board's code of conduct and ethical standards by not being clear she was speaking for herself and not the board.

On Friday, Thielen challenged Harimoto to a debate.

"You led the majority of the board in a scripted, prepared event that slandered my character and my integrity," Thielen said.

She said that if Harimoto did not support his allegations in a public debate, she expected him "to formally withdraw your accusations against my character and apologize."

In his statement yesterday, Harimoto said: "Perhaps Ms. Thielen is not accustomed to having colleagues hold her accountable for her behavior.

"Let me be clear," he said. "This is not about differing opinions. This is about one board member undermining the authority of the superintendent and the integrity of the board."


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