Symphony, Teacher And Tax Woes

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - May 25, 2005
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Ominous goings on among the mostly-rich in the inner sanctum of the Honolulu Symphony Society.

Stephen Bloom quit as president and tells friends he was burned out but he was miffed that former first lady Vicky Cayetano was being installed as CEO over him.

Then there’s the in-fighting of the symphony board. Chairwoman Carolyn Berry was weak and often absent. The executive committee decided to hire a very expensive consultant over her. Berry had a fit and said she was resigning. Wealthy people often resent being told they don’t know best. Oops. She gives millions to the symphony. So, the board caved and dumped the consultant.

That didn’t sit well with bigchange- oriented Vicky Cayetano. She quit. Board member Mike O’Neill, described as a “slash and burn” culture-change guy, quit. Board member Mike Fisch quit.

Now, the central problems remain of leadership, an ambitious concert schedule for such a small city, musician unhappiness (and clout) and not much communitywide support beyond the wealthy arts patrons.

One person deeply seated in symphony circles here and on the Mainland tells me: “I seriously believe this symphony should fold and take stock of why it keeps burning down like this.”

But another insider tells me “the symphony closed its season this past weekend with Beethoven’s Fifth. It’s from a minor key to a major key and is about overcoming adversity.”  What keeps state schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto from banging her head against the wall for a few mind-clearing minutes and screaming “I quit”?

She gets the Education for the Handicapped monster under a semblance of control and up pops the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) monster. She’s grappled with it and the Test Cheater monster breaks loose from the Closet Of Bad Teachers.

She should be most worried about special education. The 1975 Public Law 94-142 that created it (and its 1990 renaming as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is righteous legislation. We guarantee a free and appropriate public education to every child with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 20 who qualifies, and the right of challenge if turned down.

Hawaii procrastinated until the 1994 Felix consent decree. We had been identifying only 6 percent of the school-age kids as needing special ed and committing only $115 million a year to that. Today, under threat of federal takeover of our schools, we’ve identified 12 percent of our 182,500 students as in need and eligible and a budget for next fiscal year of $353 million.

So why isn’t everyone happy? Well, some parents feel we don’t move fast enough.

Others — include me — ask if the effort by states to avoid angry parents and eager attorneys has put some very iffy children in regular classrooms. Are the special needs and disruptive incidents impinging on the other students seeking a good learning atmosphere? Do those other students have any rights greater than those of the whole?

Here’s an e-mail from a special ed teacher I know to be a good, reasonable, veteran educator:

“Special ed kids get a lot of special treatment that should not be so lavishly granted. Things have gotten way out of control. I got hit in the eye by an autistic child.

Broke my glasses, made my vision blurred for a couple of days. The mother said it must have been because I didn’t like her son.

“Unfortunately, typical kids often suffer in the classroom while the handicapped kids disrupt the learning process with atrocious behavior. I now feel that those who are physically aggressive and disruptive should not be in the public schools, or at least not in the regular classes.”

There are supposed to be ways to keep highly disruptive or dangerous kids out of regular classrooms. But their parents often are insistent on “mainstreaming.” And Stanley Levin’s law firm (Davis Levin Livingstone Grande) advertises that he “makes sure that government education programs correctly take care of students with special needs.” It advertises two of his successful lawsuits on that. Message delivered.

I have this sense that with special ed and NCLB demands, Hamamoto’s working on overload and can’t satisfy those who want the DOE to fail so it can be dismantled and replaced by local school boards. The ones easily manipulated by creationists and Core Knowledge salesmen.  LaMarr Hardy bit the big one in Hawaii federal court.

You likely first heard of him in my MidWeek column when he bragged that he hadn’t paid any income tax since 1977 and that his Research Foundation advised clients how not to pay.

That certainly got Uncle Sam’s attention. Hardy and his wife have been convicted, could get 13 years in prison and $1.3 million in fines. Co-conspirators Mike Kailing of Honolulu and Fred Ortiz of the Big Island also are guilty.

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