Election of BOE may go on Hawaii ballot
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
The state House Finance Committee agreed yesterday that voters should decide whether the state school board will be appointed by the governor.
The committee rejected complaints from the school board and the teachers union that an appointed board would give the governor too much power and complaints from Gov. Linda Lingle that the proposal doesn't go far enough.
Voters would be asked in a state constitutional amendment in November whether to replace the elected state Board of Education with a board appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate.
Hawai'i converted from an appointed to an elected school board in 1964. The appointed school board would be similar to the University of Hawai'i Board of Regents, where regents are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
"There is no silver bullet to education reform. But I do believe this approach would allow the governor to appoint the board members, and clearly a governor would appoint members that see the system the way he or she does," said state Rep. Roy Takumi, D-36th (Pearl City, Momilani, Pacific Palisades), the chairman of the House Education Committee, who briefed the House Finance Committee on the issue yesterday.
"And then this board would appoint the new superintendent, so there is that alignment."
The measures are Senate Bill 2570 and SB 2571.
Some on the school board and the teachers union have argued that an appointed board would concentrate too much power in the hands of the governor and further politicize public education.
Lingle has asked lawmakers to give future governors the power over the superintendent by placing the position in the governor's Cabinet like other department directors. She prefers the school board be abolished.
Lingle, who believes the change would establish a clear line of accountability over education, has said she would not release state money to end teacher furloughs unless lawmakers put her idea before voters.
"The governor should not tie anything dealing with the furloughs to legislation," Takumi said, calling the governor's ultimatum "odd."
Takumi said Lingle's idea is essentially dead for the session. But state Sen. Brian Taniguchi, D-10th (Mānoa, McCully), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee, said it is "technically possible, although remote," that Lingle's proposal could be added in negotiations between the House and Senate.
Lingle also told reporters yesterday that she believes her idea is still possible.
"I've been around long enough to know that what may seem the case today, may not be in a week or so," she said. "So I think there is enough time left in the legislative session to do the right thing, which is to let the people decide whether the next governor should be held accountable for education in Hawai'i."
Garrett Toguchi, the chairman of the state school board, and Wil Okabe, the president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, asked House lawmakers last week to preserve an elected school board.
School board members are accountable, they said, because they have to answer to voters. "Would you be in favor of the governor appointing every one of you," Okabe asked the members of the House Finance Committee.
State House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan, R-32nd (Lower Pearlridge, 'Aiea, Hālawa), said an appointed board would only continue the lack of accountability over education.
The state constitution now gives the elected school board the power over the superintendent and for statewide education policy. The governor and lawmakers have control over state spending on education, so there is often disagreement over who has the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of public schools.
"We can't pass fake reform again. That's the bottom line," Finnegan said.
The teachers union, meanwhile, is scheduled to vote today on a supplemental agreement with the school board to end teacher furloughs. The deal calls for lawmakers to approve $92 million from the state's hurricane relief fund and for teachers to give up some of their planning days.
Okabe has described the deal as the last opportunity to end furloughs and has said the union would not negotiate another proposal.
"If we want to end furlough days, this is the opportunity for us," he told House lawmakers last week.
But Lingle has said she would not release the money for the deal if it was approved by lawmakers. Lingle said the teachers union is insisting that all school staff be brought back on furlough days when only essential teachers could do the job. She said the teachers are standing with their colleagues in the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers instead of with the students.
"That is showing their true colors. This is about public-employee unions, and it needs to be about children," she said. "We have to get that focus back."
State Rep. Marcus Oshiro, D-39th (Wahiawā), head of the House Finance Committee, said he would wait to see how the teachers union votes before deciding whether to tap the hurricane relief fund despite Lingle's opposition.
Many lawmakers are concerned about a proposal that taps hurricane relief money, knowing the governor has no intention of releasing it for furloughs.