BY ED CASE – What’s more important? Who serve as our next Governor and Members of Congress? Or whether we’ll give ourselves a fighting chance at real progress in public education over the next generation?

Of course, they’re all crucial. But the question on the ballot of whether to move from an elected to appointed Board of Education is at least as important as the selection of any officeholder.

My vote will be yes on the proposed constitutional amendment: “Shall the Board of Education be changed to a board appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, as provided by law?” My reasons: accountability; expertise; and reform flexibility.

On accountability, imagine you’re piloting a container ship into Honolulu Harbor at flood tide; someone’s got to be in charge. But our governance system (and the real problem is governance, not money) is just the opposite, with everyone responsible for a part but no coordination and everyone able to lay the blame off on someone else. That hasn’t worked and won’t work; providing accountability from the BOE to the Governor and from the Governor to the voters will help greatly.

On expertise, most BOE members and candidates over the decades have been good citizens who care about education. But let’s face facts: they largely haven’t been experts in public education and, maybe more important, we really haven’t known who or what we were (or increasingly aren’t) voting for. Yes, if the BOE was more of an advisory body there’d be a better argument for citizen oversight. But the BOE in practice runs the Department of Education, and that won’t work without hands-on expertise which can be insured by appointment.

On reform, let’s again face facts: the current system has allowed entrenchment of the status quo in the DOE and BOE and resistance to any real semblance of reform. The few BOE reform candidates who beat the odds in elections that only the status quo pays any real attention to find themselves quickly isolated. Reform can only come from somewhere other than the current elective system.

This amendment alone won’t solve it all; that’ll take far broader structural reform. (In my last term as a state legislator (‘01-‘02), for example, I introduced a package to abolish the BOE, move most school administration responsibility from the DOE to county/district school boards and superintendents, retain the DOE for limited statewide coordination under a Superintendent appointed by the Governor as a full cabinet member, take principals and vice-principals out of unions, and eliminate the caps on charter schools.) But this amendment at least starts us in that direction.

What it really comes down to is this: are we going to try new paths rather than stay on the same old broken one. This vote is a referendum on that one question; I vote yes.

For more information, see Hawaii’s Children First.

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