No Accountability For School Crisis

Larry Price
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Wednesday - October 28, 2009
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Trying to keep up with the negotiations of our public unions is a full-time job. The reason is no one in the system is truly accountable to anyone else. Or at least that’s how it seems.

Superintendent of Education Patricia Hamamoto has to implement the policy of the Board of Education, which pretty much answers to the state Legislature, which gives appropriations to the Department of Education. Much of the appropriation by the Legislature is specific, which doesn’t give the DOE a lot of discretion, because it has to follow the policy. The governor can’t hire or fire the school superintendent, only the BOE can do that. The only thing the governor can do is restrict funds, and with half of the state’s $4 billion budget wrapped up in funding the DOE, there is a lot of accountability to go around.


Finally, the strategy of the Hawaii State Teachers Association has come to light. By law, the governor can’t mandate furloughs. Remember, the governor can only restrict funds. So the idea of furloughs came from the HSTA in the form of a contract ratified by 82 percent of the teachers. All of a sudden it is the parents who are being called on to pressure the governor and the Legislature to raise taxes or raid special fund accounts to provide for more instructional time for the students.

Very clever.

So the governor called a special meeting with the DOE superintendent, HSTA officials and a few selected members of the BOE to ask for help in understanding the strategy, with simple questions like, “If you didn’t want furloughs instead of layoffs and pay cuts, why did you ask for them?”

The other public unions playing this dangerous game - the UHPA and UPW - are running advertisements stating that their major concern is the students. All of this may get a few people elected to office in the future, but they are going to have do a better job of making their strategy more understandable to the taxpayers.

In a recent press conference after her meeting with the governor, Hamamoto said that public schools can restore some of the lost instruction time due to Furlough Fridays, but it’s a complicated process. In order to restore lost instruction time, a school can request an increase in instructional time on Wednesdays, when class days are shorter. Schools can also convert some of the six waiver planning days to instructional time. However, requests must be presented to, first, the School Community Council and second, voted on by two-thirds of the teachers. If the request passes that stage, it next must go to a four-member panel of the BOE and the HSTA. Then the full BOE has to approve.

It must make sense to someone, because several schools have made such requests, but the school board can’t act until Nov. 5 at the earliest, and the first furlough Friday was Oct. 23.

Before you place blame on the superintendent and the governor, consider the complexity of the problem. Ten-month teachers have 18 days of sick leave, no vacations. They have summer, Christmas, fall and spring breaks, and also all state holidays, and some of them work during summer school. There also are two Teacher Institute days a year, and schools have five waiver days a year - some schools have more if they are going through restructuring because they haven’t met the Annual Yearly Progress (ATY) goals. And finally, there are the so-called Rainbow Teachers - resource teachers and student services coordinators - who work 12-month schedules. When I first started paying attention to our public education system, there were generally about 180 instructional days per school year. To increase the number of instructional days would cost the taxpayers about $4 million a day. So, proponents of a year-round school to keep up with the body of knowledge that needs to be taught, think again, because it will take a while before our economy can afford that kind of system.

So you can see, the reason it’s so easy to play the blame game in the educational crisis is simply because there is no one accountable to the taxpayers. If things get bad enough, maybe the voters will ask for a constitutional amendment calling for an appointed school board and appointed superintendent, then they could blame the governor when things go terribly wrong.

There’s only one innocent group in this mess - the teachers.

No, make that two - the kids.

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