Board of Education 2010 Race: Popularity Contest or a Chance for Parent Voices?

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BY LAURA BROWN – The 2010 Board of Education race offers candidates from two sides of the political spectrum: those who are parents or teachers who simply want to fix the education system for the children versus those with name recognition seeking political status.

Some say knowing the difference can be difficult.


Traditionally, many of Hawaii’s voters do not vote for Board of Education candidates, because they say they do not have enough information to make an intelligent vote.

And because candidates must run in districts that encompass either District 1 – the Island of Oahu – or District II – all neighbor islands – candidates say they do not have the money to spend to get their name and positions known.

These problems occurred again during the Sept. 18th primary when more than half of the voters in some districts failed to vote for a Board of Education candidate.

So how can voters make informed decisions when selecting Board of Education candidates?

Maui, District II

Voters must decide in the Maui race, for instance, if they will vote for Leona Rocha-Wilson, a fashion executive who is endorsed by the Hawaii State teachers’ union or for Ray Hart, a retired teacher, father and grandfather.

Here is more about Ray Hart:

Rocha-Wilson has said publicly that she doesn’t believe Hawaii’s education system is broken.

Hart says he will do what it takes to get his message of local control out, using his own money to do so.

Oahu, District I, Windward

In the Windward District, Valzey Freitas would like parents to have more of a voice in education, with funding and decisions made at the K-12 Complex or school level. See more about her here:

She is running against John Penebacker, who was one of the “Fabulous Five,” known as one of University of Hawaii’s best basketball team. Penebacker already has served on the BOE and supported the status quo.

Oahu, District 1, At-large

In the Oahu at-large race, Melanie Bailey is a parent who led the fight against student furloughs and for a longer school year. See more about her here:

In contrast, Roger Takabayashi, current National Education Association representative and former president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, stated during a forum that the DOE’s current standards are “too high.”

Incumbent Kim Coco Iwamoto is a lawyer whose family owns Roberts Hawaii, which holds the contract for Department of Education school bus transportation. One of Iwamoto’s public complaints has been that military families are not paying their fair share for public education. Iwamoto, a open transgender, advocates heavily for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights in the public schools.

Brian Yamane is a past-legislator who says improvements in the DOE are needed, but only if money is available. See more about him here:

Randall Yee is a past Board of Education member and current Charter School Review Panel member. He believes in a statewide Board of Education that limits itself to policy and does not micromanage schools. See more about him here:

Pamela Young, an accountant from Mililani — not the more well-known KITV newscaster – believes the DOE is moving towards decentralization, but this will take time. See more about here here:

The three Oahu at-large candidates with the top votes will be elected to the board.

Oahu, District 1, Leeward – Special Election

When Breene Harimoto resigned from the board to run for City Council, Gov. Linda Lingle appointed Caroline Wong to fill the position until the general election.

A special election to fill the seat is being held concurrent with the general election.

The three candidates running for election are David O’Neal, Maralyn Kurshals and James Arola.

Because the candidates in this special election are listed separately from all other candidates on the Office of Election’s website, many forums, such as neighborhood boards, excluded them, stating that they just didn’t know they were running.

David O’Neal, who is married to a teacher and a father of 3 young children said, “Hawaii News Now said they didn’t know about our race and, even though they gave all other candidates 3 minutes, they said it was too late now.

“And then they said we could each have 1 minute only if we all agreed to come together. Unfortunately, one of the candidates, James Arola, has not participated in forums and so we may not be able to get that to happen.”

O’Neal says that while the Star-Advertiser endorsed his opponent Maralyn Kurshals, the newspaper never interviewed him. Kurshals said the paper did not interview her either.

Maralyn Kurshals, an early education advocate said she has experience on the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center Board. Kurshals said the process to apply for the special election did not require signatures, as in the general election, but only to sign up.

James Arola did not return Hawaii Reporter’s call.

All candidates were asked to answer a Hawaii Reporter election survey, and those who responded have theirs included above.

Special election candidates will be given the opportunity by Hawaii Reporter to provide either a response to our survey or to publish an op-ed highlighting why they are running for office.

Voting tip: To find out what district you are voting in, and to get a copy of the ballot you will be using to vote, go to the Polling Place locator on the Hawaii Office of Elections Web site at Then go to the bottom of the left-hand column and enter your first and last name and date of birth and hit search.





  1. […] Senator Slom always encourages people to stay informed about the many political races and issues. The race to fill seats on the State Board of Education (BOE) is ignored by many voters because they don’t know who the candidates are. Education writer Laura Brown states: “Traditionally, many of Hawaii’s voters do not vote for Board of Education candidates, because they say they do not have enough information to make an intelligent vote.” She goes on to clear up some of the “mystery” and issues about the BOE candidates. Read Laura Brown’s article at […]

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