Hawaii’s Public Schools Will be Improved with Decentralization, Elected District School Boards

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”’These are some of the comments made by Laura Thielen, elected member of the State Board of Education, during a recent hearing at the Hawaii State Legislature in the House Committee on Education regarding House Bill No. 1082, which proposes an Amendment to Article X, Sections 2 and 3 of the Hawaii Constitution to Create Elected District School Boards.”’

There is a lot of disagreement about our education system and how it should be operated. But I think we can all agree that our statewide student outcomes are not where we would like them to be, nor is student achievement where we have the potential to be. While there are many good things occurring in our public schools, we can be so much better than we are.


Many people feel that changing the governance of the schools will not improve student achievement. I disagree. I believe true local control over the operations, management and finances of education will improve student outcomes for three reasons:

*1. Smaller schools districts are better able to monitor, evaluate and support programs in schools, and to step in more quickly when programs are faltering or failing. The sheer size of our current system prevents the dedicated people within the DOE and the BOE from performing this job as well as a smaller district can.

*2. High parent and community participation do improve student outcomes. A decentralized system places true financial and operational autonomy closer to the parents and communities. Local decision making that includes control over funding will increase parent and community participation. I believe one of the primary reasons for the lack of participation under the current system is the fact that our school-community bodies do not have true fiscal and operational autonomy.

*3. Local districts can tailor educational services and distributions of funds to meet the unique demands of their constituency. Local boards will be more attuned to the needs and strengths of their communities, and can set their policies, operations, programs and funds accordingly.

Several concerns are regularly raised when the topic of local boards is addressed. I believe HB 1082 provides good responses to the two concerns I hear most frequently:

*1. People are concerned that local boards will mean that education funds will no longer be distributed equitably. Moreover, they are concerned that districts will begin competing for funds at the legislature. HB 1082 retains our current system of equitably distributing education funds across the state. Under this bill the State Board of Education is retained and is empowered to establish and oversee an equitable funding formula for each of the districts.

*2. People are concerned that local boards mean we will abandon statewide education standards. HB 1082 clearly states that the State Board of Education will establish statewide education standards and oversee compliance with federal laws including No Child Left Behind.
Local boards have the authority to develop and fund the educational services within their district that will enable their students to meet statewide standards. They will not be able to lower those standards.

The topic of local school boards is highly charged and, unfortunately, become highly political as well. As you consider HB 1082, please also consider the dissatisfaction with the current system that has motivated many diverse people to support this measure.

I ran for the Board of Education as a parent of public school children who is unhappy enough with the system to pull one of my children out into private school. I am not unique.

We hold our children accountable to specific performance standards. We say we will impose consequences if they fail to meet these standards. But where is the accountability in our education system itself? Where is the accountability of the Board of Education? Where is the accountability of the Department of Education? The centralized Board and Department in Honolulu are too physically removed from our schools, our students and our communities to be truly accessible and to be held accountable.

As a parent, I see HB 1082 as a vehicle for moving the responsibility and accountability for the education system closer to the school level, where I believe it belongs.

I ask that you permit the voters of Hawaii to decide this issue that affects all of us so directly. We trust voters to be wise enough to vote for us. We should trust them to be wise enough to understand the issues surrounding the true control of their schools and the education of their children.

I want to acknowledge the many hard-working and dedicated people within the Department of Education whom I have had the pleasure of meeting recently. I do not mean in any way to caste aspersions upon these people. They are committed to education, and we are lucky to have such people in this state. I simply believe the problem lies within the system, not the people. I am confident that if the Constitution is amended, that the Department personnel will have the ability to assist with the successful implementation of that new system.

I also want to thank my fellow Board of Education members for their hard work and commitment. We are year-round volunteers who are passionate about improving education. While we may not agree on all issues, I appreciate the Board members who have supported my right to testify before you today as an individual.

”’Invitation to those in support of HB 1082: Please come to the Board of Education meeting Thursday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. and testify. If you want to talk about the issue, or want advice on how you can be more active, give me a call at 383-2717 (no calls after 7:00 p.m. please).”’