Time To Try Multiple School Boards

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - January 11, 2012
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Hawaii voters should recall the 2004 re-election campaign of incumbent Gov. Linda Lingle, in which she outlined her reorganization plan for Hawaii’s education system. At that time our state was and continues to be plagued by some of the lowest math and reading scores in the nation, usually ending up in the lowest three or four. And this has gone on for years, at least all of the 37 years of my residency. Why?

Could it be because Hawaii is the only state in the union to have a single, consolidated school district with a single school board? At last count in 2010, Hawaii’s Department of Education, Board of Education and lone superintendent of schools oversee 283 separate schools, more than 13,000 teachers and 178,000 pupils annually.

Lingle’s plan would have decentralized the statewide DOE with seven separate departments and boards of education, one for each island county and four for the City and County of Honolulu. She would have given more spending and policy autonomy to each school principal, and funded each school district according to its social and academic demographics. This would put policy and funding decisions closer to each school, and state funding priorities based upon objective criteria rather than on political clout in the Legislature.

Of course, her recommendation for principals (executive positions) to be nonunion (now Hawaii Government Employees Association) was DOA in the Democrat-led Legislature. For that matter, the Legislature (with Hawaii State Teachers Association support) killed her entire reorganization plan. But sensing strong public support for Lingle’s proposals (one of many good reasons for her reelection), the Legislature came up with its own prounion Band-Aid plan (Act 51), which made negligible difference if at all, as evidenced by continuing low achievement scores.

In 2009, the “No Child Left Behind” program of the Bush era was replaced with Obama’s $4.35 billion “Race To the Top” program, from which the state of Hawaii DOE was awarded $75 million depending on the fulfillment of certain progress milestones. Last March the state requested and was granted an extension of that time frame. Now it turns out the cumbersome DOE can’t even fulfill the requirements (such as scheduling the required number of hours into the average school day) within the extended time frame.

Folks, the problem isn’t the parents, the students or the teachers. The flatout problem is the status quo-loving HSTA, and for the principals the initiative-killing HGEA and the round-heeled legislators it keeps in office. Not once during the giveand-take dialogue on the issue of teacher furloughs to save money do I recall a union statement expressing concern for the good of the students.

And for every other controversial issue, it’s for the good of the teachers. I guess that’s why it’s called “the teachers union,” but it’s our kids who pay.

All you harried and dedicated teachers out there, aren’t you fed up with your team always ending up on the bottom of the achievement heap? With the DOE spending far more money per student than the average state, don’t you wonder where it’s going? Not into your salary, for sure. And do you really want your union dues to go to the campaigns of politicians who thrive on the “profitable” status quo?

All you parents out there including legislators, teachers and school executives who bust your tails to pay private school tuition and state taxes supporting public schools, aren’t you ready to shout out the window, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore”?

Much has been made of the new governor-appointed school board. Supposedly, we now know where the “buck” stops. Well, Gov. Abercrombie, if you really care, you may be able to raise your approval rating from the lowest in the nation by swallowing that bitter partisan apple and ordering our BOE to decentralize our DOE, and for the unions to just butt out!

Heck, Neil, just do it by decree. That seems to be working for you so far.

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