Author Gathering Place

Kelly Takaya King

Centralized schools’ flaws
obvious when seen
from the inside

The Board of Education's attack on one of its own members, as described in the Star-Bulletin on March 19, was vicious, unprofessional and unwarranted. BOE Chairman Breene Harimoto should be ashamed of himself.

Other BOE members have had plenty to say about whether to break up Hawaii's statewide school district and establish local school boards, but no one has attacked them personally for their opinions, as they did Laura Thielen during a board meeting in Waimanalo.

Thielen's support of Governor Lingle's proposal to form local school boards is completely within her duties as a BOE member, as is any issue that concerns the improvement of our school system and the education of Hawaii's public school children. I commend her and the governor for taking a strong position in support of our students despite the fact that a local school board system would lessen their own political positions and control base.

My own advocacy for local boards began in 1994, when I became a BOE member and observed the dysfunction largely owing to the centralization in our outdated school system. There was no doubt that the lack of parental and community involvement in our schools -- scattered across eight islands -- could be traced directly to the disenfranchisement that resulted from being so far away from the base of control and accountability on Oahu.

Because I feel so strongly, I have personally supported local school boards as a public school parent, Parent Teacher Association board member, school-community based management chairwoman, BOE representative and now as a member of Citizens Achieving Reform in Education, the committee appointed by the governor to examine education reform. Like Thielen, I have no official political affiliation. I supported decentralization when the Democrats voted for it in past years, and I support it now when it seems to have become a Republican issue.

There is something very wrong and self-serving about state Superintendent Pat Hamamoto's complete aversion to local school boards. It may not be beneficial for certain Department of Education employees and union leaders who have powerful positions (and paychecks) at stake, and it certainly is not a silver-bullet solution, but local control is our best hope to make schools the focal point of our communities so we can attain the involvement and accountability necessary to improve student achievement and improve conditions at our schools. In fact, a recent audit of our failing schools found that "physical isolation from Oahu" was a major problem. Comparing the percentage of administrative personnel in our state DOE to the national average is irrelevant if our state office is ineffective.

As a CARE committee member, I know I speak for fellow committee member Thielen in stating that I am not lobbying for Linda Lingle in my advocacy of local school boards, but I am grateful for the governor's support in trying to get this issue on the ballot so voters can finally decide for ourselves if we are ready for the responsibility of running our own schools. Neither Thielen nor I signed on as volunteer CARE members to help anyone's political career; we signed on because we finally have a governor who is helping us to improve education.

Kelly Takaya King of Kihei, Maui, is a former member of the state Board of Education and a current member of Citizens Achieving Reform in Education.


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