BY RANDY BALDEMOR – In a recent posting by BOE Chairman Garrett Toguchi in Hawaii Reporter, he urges readers to “Keep Politics Out of Schools” by voting “no” on the constitutional amendment for an appointed BOE. It is ironic that he would suggest that the elected BOE process is somehow immune from politics. After all, he has been the recipient of the HSTA’s endorsement for every election in which he has run for the BOE.
Perhaps that is why during the recent Furlough Friday debacle, he seemed to be locked at the hip with the HSTA in trying to foist the blame for the furloughs on the Governor. The fact is it was the BOE that made the choice of depriving students of 17 instructional days as its preferred solution for dealing with the cutbacks in spending required by the huge decline in public revenues. Even former HSTA executive director Joan Husted stated that a better alternative would have been for furloughs to have been designated on non-instructional days like paid holidays before further reducing the number of instructional days for students in our public schools.
The reality is our elected BOE is very much politicized. If the BOE Chairman was truly concerned about that, he would support an appointed BOE and mitigate the influence of powerful special interest groups like the HSTA which spend large amounts of money in support of their preferred elected BOE members. That is why today, the main opponents to changing the status quo are the HSTA and the BOE Chairman.
The BOE Chairman’s attempt to belittle Hawaii’s Children First as being comprised of a “handful of critics” is so far off the mark as to be ludicrous. Hawaii’s Children First is a ballot issue committee formed solely for the purpose of advocating a “YES” vote in favor of an appointed BOE. It has no other agenda and does not aim to demean our public schools. Rather, our group is made up of people who genuinely care about our public schools system and have been involved for many years in various ways to promote the improvement and success of our public schools and its students. We are comprised of current and past students, parents, teachers, principals, DOE administrators, BOE members, public school graduates, business leaders, community leaders, and educational reform advocates. While they rarely can be expected to agree on anything, our four living Governors, Lingle, Cayetano, Waihee, and Ariyoshi all support voting “YES” for an appointed BOE even though none of them would directly benefit from the change.
All of us have waited patiently for the elected BOE to deliver results during the past 42 years. However, our patience has been exhausted. There comes a time when we need to acknowledge that the system we have in place is not working and it is time for a change.
True, the Furlough Fridays fiasco was the last straw for many of us. It represented a betrayal of the trust place in our BOE to serve the interests of Hawaii’s children first. But Furlough Fridays was just a catalyst for change. Those who have had direct experience with the BOE know first-hand how embarrassingly dysfunctional the BOE can be. Even those who have served on the BOE acknowledge this and have come out in support of voting “YES” for the appointed BOE. They include past and current BOE members: Janice Akuna; Eileen Clarke; Breene Harimoto; Donna Ikeda; and Kelly Maeshiro. The number of current and past DOE superintendents and principals supporting an appointed BOE also speak volumes since they are the ones who have had to endure first hand the dysfunctional workings of the BOE.
Former Superintendent Pat Hamamoto recently announced her support for an appointed BOE. Now that she no longer has to grin and bear the persistent attempts at micromanagement by the BOE she is free to express her candid opinion. The superintendent of education is defined by our State Constitution as the “chief executive officer of the public school system” but Hamamoto was never truly given the full authority and discretion that position should have commanded. The humiliating interference by the BOE with her functions as CEO was made public for all to witness during the Furlough Friday fiasco when she was relegated to a supporting role while BOE Chair Toguchi became the chief spokesperson for the DOE in alignment with the HSTA attempting to lay sole blame on the Governor for the furloughs. Is it any wonder that Hamamoto abruptly announced her resignation in the midst of the controversy?
The current elected BOE just runs amok under the public’s radar screen disregarding the constitutional amendment enacted in 1994 that reduced their powers over the DOE to only “formulate educational policy” and to “appoint the superintendent of education as the chief executive officer of the public schools system”. Ignoring the mandate of the voters, the BOE left intact its noncompliant internal policies in an attempt to maintain their control over the Superintendent.
Moreover they continued to act as though nothing had changed, maintaining seven standing committees and three ad hoc committees that tied up the Superintendent and her deputies and DOE staff in hundreds of hours at 87 meetings during the last school year. Despite their powers being severely limited by the 1994 constitutional change, they continue to maintain an organizational structure providing for a dedicated staff with 13 employees to service the 14 member BOE; including a BOE executive director paid an annual salary of $123,600 – more than the Governor and as much as the Deputy Superintendent.
Although the BOE has no revenue generating authority, they attempt to manage the DOE’s budget by second-guessing the Superintendent’s multi-billion dollar budget. Despite their claim of exercising fiscal oversight, they have no Audit Committee and have never instituted an independent financial audit function in the DOE. The fact is that although the State Constitution gives them far less power and authority than the UH Board of Regents, they act as though they are a legislative body and interfere with management of the DOE as though it were their fiefdom.
Can real progress occur within the public schools system if we continue to have an elected BOE whose members default into their positions because of voter apathy and who think they are entitled to behave like a motley collection of 14 CEOs managing our public schools? It is time for a change.
If we are serious about improving our public school system, we must empower the leadership of the DOE with the authority to achieve progress with the understanding that they will be held accountable. Having the Governor be responsible for appointing a BOE that comprehends its role and stops micromanaging the DOE is a critical first step along the road to reforms and progress.
Let’s not fool ourselves otherwise. If we squander this opportunity for fundamental change, let’s brace ourselves for a long and challenging road ahead for our public schools. Please vote “YES” for an appointed school board on November 2.
Randy Baldemor is the Chairman of Hawaii’s Children First. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org