“Laura Brown Image”

Gov. Linda Lingle, at a March 7 press conference at Hickam Elementary School, again called on state legislators to give Hawaii citizens the right to determine whether Hawaii’s public education system should be overseen by local school boards, rather than one centralized board. She cited a 2003 OmniTrack poll that found 66 to 73 percent of Hawaii residents favor local school boards.

However, Lingle and others wanting to decentralize to the now centralized education system, say some proposals by legislators may sound reasonable, but actually add layers of bureaucracy to the state system.

For example, HB 289 requires the superintendent to “establish administrative units to provide administrative support to schools”; or increase Department of Education centralized government.

Addressing HB 289, Lingle said, “The Legislature’s current proposal to create ‘advisory committees’ is shibai. The House’s proposed local school advisory committees would have no autonomy or local decision-making power because they would still report to a centralized board.”

According to the text of this bill, parent, teacher and administrative input would be limited to merely testifying before their regional councils. A student, parent and teacher plus 4 unspecified members would form a “coordinating council.” Duties would include “informal assessments” of regional superintendents, prioritizing and “forwarding” a list of CIP projects to the statewide Board of Education and managing some grants. The rules and scope of the councils would not be established until after the law is passed.

Governor-appointed school area committees (SACs) were abolished by the Legislature in 1998 because they did not have any authority or control any funding and therefore did not impact or improve student performance. Now, the House is trying to legislate the same useless governance model, except that members for each region would be appointed by the state Board of Education.

During the 2001 Legislative Session, HB 2033 and SB2102 supporting 7-member elected district boards with a statewide board comprised of representative members from regional boards were approved by all members with the exception of one representative. The function of these boards was described in the bills as “fostering community partnerships” and prioritizing repair and maintenance within their districts while providing a regional monitoring function. SB 2102 SD1 HD2, died in Senate conference committee days before the end of the 2001 session.

Lingle says she does not understand why the 2003 Legislature is now opposed to local school boards. “The only thing that I can think of that’s changed since then is there’s a new governor.”

Ironically, while the Democrat-led House fights Lingle’s local school board proposal, SB 667 introduced by Senate Education Chair Norman Sakamoto, nearly duplicates last session’s bills. Additionally, it adds the following:

*Creates a state board of education composed of seven members elected from seven school board districts and six members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate;

*Creates seven regional education agencies as the primary administrative units for the delivery of educational services, to be governed by appointed boards of directors and administered by regional superintendents;

*Delineates the roles and responsibilities of the state board of education and state superintendent and the regional education agency, its governing board, and regional superintendent;

*Establishes school complex-based management (SCBM) within the regional education agencies.

This bill would still require a constitutional amendment. Although the intent of the bill is to replace Department of Education district offices and personnel with these boards — at a savings estimated by some analysts to be as much as $75 million — DOE Superintendent Pat Hamamoto testified that seven regional boards may cost as much as $6 million per year to operate.

According to a research document by William G. Ouchi, UCLA, to be published in California Policy Options 2003, the most effective education governance model is a bottom-up vs. top-down model.

A model those favoring decentralization say Hawaii’s education leaders would do well to review before jumping into models proven not to work.

”’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.