Leadership vacuum suffocates students


POSTED: Sunday, March 28, 2010

If it wasn't clear before that the people who have the power and means to get public school students back to their classrooms do not have that as their primary goal, it should be now.

Neither the cynical governor, nor the self-serving teachers union, nor lame legislators, the detached Department of Education, nor the feeble Board of Education can see past their own private realms to reach a resolution.

No, their objective is to win, to come out on top even if what they see as their gain is a loss for the kids they profess are their concern.

The latest proposals from the dueling factions don't have a rainbow shave ice chance in hell to be acceptable to the other. Yet they throw them out there as genuine programs, knowing all along that they are merely grabbing for a political edge.

The cabal that is the union, the department, the board and their legislative handlers want $92 million from various state funds to pay for all education employees—including teachers, service workers and department bureaucrats—to work the four remaining furlough days this school year and 17 in the next.

The union and board claim that there are no “;nonessential”; workers in the department. If true, they would silence the many skeptics by listing all job positions outside the classroom with a description of duties to illustrate why the employees are indispensable.

The union and board emphasized that teachers are making a concession by giving up noninstructional days when they don't teach to make up for some of the furlough days when they do. They say they don't need the governor's approval to get their way.

They know full well, however, that even if legislators approve their plan and the money, Gov. Linda Lingle can thwart them by simply not releasing the funds.

And she won't.

Unable to push through her long-held mission to restructure public education, the governor has come up with her own misguided plan.

She says she will allow $62 million from special funds to pay for only “;essential”; employees to return to work, but with a catch—that the Legislature approve a ballot issue to abolish the elected school board and transfer the board's power to choose a school superintendent to the governor's office.

At this point, it appears unlikely that lawmakers will bow to what amounts to the Lingle's holding education hostage to her ideology. In the last year of her term, she is seen as a short-timer trying to harden a moderate image, now unfashionable in rigorously conservative Republican circles, as she searches for political life beyond Washington Place.

So what we've got is a deadlock, just as we had last month, the month before and three months before that.

The school year will end in about nine weeks and a new one will begin about nine weeks later. Between now and then, there will be no new money magically filling the budget vacuum that has brought us here, and, maddeningly, no new pathfinders to fill the vacuum of leadership that afflicts and smothers Hawaii.