Joan Husted


POSTED: Friday, March 05, 2010

Joan L. Husted wasn't expected to be the provocateur. A founder of the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the union's chief negotiator for 35 years, she was a panelist at a forum last week, charged with responding to University of Hawaii law professor Randall W. Roth's critique of the Department of Education.

But it was Husted who dropped some bombshells, proposing that the statewide, elected Board of Education be suspended for six years, during which time the governor would appoint an “;education czar”; to overhaul the DOE, which would enjoy a set budget rather than the Legislature's fiscal micromanagement.

She said that education deserves more money, but also asserted that individual schools should control up to 90 percent of the money — a model akin to charter schools and reminiscent of then-superintendent Charles Toguchi's attempts to decentralize the DOE in the 1990s.

After three budget bienniums, she said, a new school board should be elected, consisting of 25 members apportioned along state Senate lines.

Husted rejected Roth's description of the school system as “;broken,”; but allowed that it is “;dysfunctional.”; Her ideas reflect dismay over a move to permanently scrap the elected school board, but also recognize that education reformers are gaining steam amid the Furlough Fridays that have idled students and called the current governance structure into serious question.

Husted, 72, retired from the HSTA at the end of 2007. She participates in many community issues, serving on the boards of Aloha United Way and PBS Hawaii, and is active in Democratic politics. She considered signing on to an education overhaul endorsed by three former governors last month, but ultimately found their manifesto too negative.

“;I prefer to find my own voice,”; said Husted, who is backing Neil Abercrombie in the governor's race and volunteering for Colleen Hanabusa's congressional campaign.

She moved to Honolulu in 1966 from Ann Arbor, Mich., working as a school counselor at Kaneohe's King Intermediate. She joined the HSTA staff in 1972, shortly after helping found the labor union, was its chief negotiator her entire career, and also served as executive director for six years. Her heart remains with teachers, but she made clear in an interview this week that she's speaking for herself now, not the HSTA.

QUESTION: If we could start with your idea of suspending the school board for six years, three budget bienniums. Why do you think that's a good place to start?

ANSWER: There seems to be so much concentration on the issue of one person has to be held accountable, but I do not believe in taking the vote away from the people. As far as I'm willing to go is to say, suspend the school board — that would probably take a constitutional amendment — appoint an educational czar and fix whatever are the perceived ills of the Department of Education. Then reinstate the Board of Education and reapportion it to a 25-member board, one board member elected from each Senatorial district. In other words, suspend the elected board but restore the elected board so that people do not lose their voice.

Q: The educational czar appointed by the governor — what do you see him or her doing?

A: You're now going to have a six-year period where you do not have an elected board, or an appointed board, telling you what to do. You only have the governor telling you what it is you're supposed to do. So if there are systems that do not work, fix them. If there is more money needed, which I believe there is, go get it. If there are things that need to be negotiated with the unions, go negotiate them. That way you can hold the governor personally responsible for everything that goes on during those six years, because she's appointed the czar or he's appointed the czar, and you know where to point the finger.

Q: So where do you see the dysfunction in the department?

A: There are some systems within the Department of Education that are clearly dysfunctional.

Its employment systems within the department need to be streamlined so that when you recruit teachers and you put them out into the employment list for school administrators to make choices, that has to happen very fast. It doesn't happen very fast.

Secondly, people don't get paid on time in the department. New employees wait an extraordinary length of time to get paid. That's a dysfunction.

There are directions coming from all over the place. District superintendents give out programs, principals give out programs, the Board of Education gives out programs, the DOE staff, the Legislature — all give out programs that go on in schools. As a result you have an overloaded system without a clear focus. That's (on top of) No Child Left Behind and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and I have my thoughts about the viability of those two federal mandates. So you gotta streamline this system.

Q: What areas of dysfunction are there within the school system that could be reformed, relating to the union?

A: Usually when people talk about that, they say, “;The union says you can't fire anybody.”; And that's just a bunch of crap. People who say that either have no idea what goes on, or are in schools that didn't want to bite the bullet and do the job they were being paid for to do. I know of teachers who have taught for 40 years and never been evaluated as a teacher. That is not the union's fault.

Q: Let's talk a little bit about money. (With the furloughs) there seems to be this feeling that it's as if the kids are being held for ransom.

A: I can't speak for what's been going on for the past two years. You have to talk to HSTA. I can tell you that HSTA has always been concerned about youngsters, and I know furloughs would belie that statement, but, as I said, I wasn't at the table.

Q: What is your sense about some of the reform efforts, education bills? What do you think is going to survive?

A: I'm not really that close because I don't lobby anymore. I think any bills that require a lot of money, like the longer school year for kids, are not going to survive. ... If you keep the same training days and noninstructional days, but you make the school year 190 days for kids, you're talking about $140 million more money over two years. I don't think the Legislature ought to get into that anyway. I think the Board of Education ought to set the school year and I think negotiations ought to set the teacher year. I've always believed that the board did set a school year: It's a minimum of 180 days; you can read it in the board policy. Bargaining up to the furlough issue didn't alter that.

Q: So why not just give up the planning days, at least temporarily? Kind of split the difference?

A: I don't know. You have to ask HSTA that. I don't think it's appropriate for me to start kind of second-guessing what the state and the union are doing.

Q: I also wanted to talk about the charter schools. They seem to be incredibly vulnerable this year, given the budget situation. I know that the HSTA sometimes has had a contentious relationship, the DOE has not always been supportive, but some of these schools are really succeeding.

A: Absolutely. ... I think charter schools were put in place without having thought through the whole process. That's where the funding problem began. Let's just put them into motion, we'll teach the DOE a lesson, and that was the worst way to do it. ... If we are going to continue with charter schools, we have to fund them properly.

Q: And you think we should continue charter schools?

A: Yes. I think charter schools prove what HSTA had been saying for years: small schools, small class size, involved parents and community. That's why charter schools are succeeding. Parents are very involved in charter schools, and that's the way it ought to be.

Q: Is your overall plan in a bill — is there a formal proposal?

A: No. I'm just floating out ideas. Maybe we can get a discussion going. If we're going to end up with an appointed school board — and my sense is that bill's probably going to pass ... and a vote for that constitutional amendment may be more likely now than it was the last couple of times it was on the ballot because of the frustration that furloughs have created. But I'd like to know what the evaluation system is going to be. ... My quarrel is that we talk about a system as if it's independent of the people who are in the system. Form always follows function. It isn't “;function follows form.”; So, appoint the school board, and all the problems will go away? I don't think so.