“Laura Brown Image”

Thirty-three years after school principals joined the Hawaii Government Employee’s Association, Gov. Linda Lingle, in her Jan. 21 State of the State Address, is calling for the removal of principals from the union.

See full text at: “State of the State – Jan. 21, 2003”

Hawaii is the only state in the nation with unionized principals. The debate to remove principals and vice-principals from the union is not new, with proposals by both Republicans and Democrats — most memorably ex-Gov. Cayetano — cropping up each session for over the past decade. Legislative proposals usually offer higher wages as an incentive for new principals to reject union membership.

Takao Ito, former president and founding member of HGEA who died last year, believed any bill to remove principals from the union would punish them for public education failures over which they have no control. Principals initially united to fight racial discrimination — an issue that is irrelevant now.

On the other side of the debate, legislators, teachers and the public simply want principals to be accountable for school performance. The general perception is that an HGEA contract protects principals’ jobs whether they perform or not. Principal salary is based on seniority and not merit and the career ladder leads away from the school into other administrative jobs.

The United Public Workers (UPW), who control building and maintenance staff, also has proven to be a significant barrier to public education reform. The failure of school/community-based management at individual schools is directly attributable to flawed bylaws allowing overrepresentation of HGEA, HSTA, and UPW representatives with minimal input from parents.

Children’s welfare is nowhere to be found in any union’s mission statement. Unions exist strictly to enhance the benefits to their members through collective bargaining, using member labor and dues to influence legislators, media and the public.

However, HGEA leadership is not necessarily adverse to improving principal performance. A key recommendation of HGEA Executive Director Russell Okata on the 1997 Hawaii Economic Revitalization Task Force was to maintain existing work relationships, but provide performance-based pay and more flexibility in the assignment of principals to match school needs with individual skills.

In 2000, State Auditor Marion Higa recommended revamping the Department of Education’s educational officer classification and compensation system and implementing a formal job evaluation methodology to ensure that duties and responsibilities were clearly defined. DOE educational officers currently receive much higher pay than state civil service or University of Hawaii employees with comparable jobs.

While these improvements should be undertaken, Gov. Lingle’s proposal is more far-reaching in that it begins the process of reform by allowing charter schools responsibility for the hiring and firing of administrators. She further proposes local school boards, which would have the power to negotiate personnel decisions.

Simply removing principals from the union will not be the silver-bullet that fixes public education. This measure is only one of the three logical steps outlined in Gov. Lingle’s message and goes hand-in-hand with the allocation of resources, authority and responsibility to individual communities, which then will be truly empowered to ensure children’s educational needs are first priority in these first valiant steps toward education reform.

”’Laura Brown is the education reporter for HawaiiReporter.com and can be reached via email at”’ mailto:LauraBrown@hawaii.rr.com

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Hawaii Reporter is an award-winning, independent Hawaii-based news and opinion journal founded in 2001 and launched in February 2002. The journal's staff have won a number of top awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including the top investigative news reporting awards, business reporting awards, government reporting awards, and online news reporting awards.