Let the People Decide on Local School Boards

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“Galen Fox Image”

True education reform remains the number one issue before state Legislators. The House Republicans believe, as Gov. Linda Lingle and 75 percent of Hawaii’s people do, that the key to education reform is the creation of local school boards.


Although the Democrats killed the governor’s bill designed to create local boards in committee, the concept remains alive. We have many friends across the aisles who believe as we do and we want to reach out to them to join us on the road to true educational reform in Hawaii.

The facts show that smaller school districts are better for students than one large centralized district. State School Board Member Laura Thielen recently reported that various studies show states, including Georgia, Montana, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia, California and Washington state, found that large school districts are detrimental to student achievement. About one-half of Hawaii’s public schools are from low-income families. Local school boards would benefit them most.

Despite multiple studies available to lawmakers and the state Department of Education proving smaller school districts benefit students, there are some people who have a vested interest in seeing the present system remains unchanged. They have testified against the Governor’s proposal and have issued false numbers about how much decentralizing would cost the taxpayers.

They have even offered their own vision of decentralization that calls for 15 appointed advisory boards throughout the state, but they neglected to mention any costs.

Former state Board of Education Member Kelly King of Maui, says the only reason the Board of Education is rushing to reinstate the advisory council system is “because they think it will pacify the public” who want elected school boards. The problem with this, she says, is the state already has tried advisory boards in the past and they were ineffective because fellow Board of Education members “ignored and devalued them.” Ms. King says the value of having actual local control, is accountability is much greater.

In 1991, the Legislature passed and then Gov. John Waihee signed Act 332, which created a blue ribbon task force to conduct public information meetings across the state to discuss and debate the governance structure of public education in Hawaii and report its findings and recommendations to the Legislature.

The task force submitted its final report to the 1992 session after scores of community meetings and an extensive survey. The task force members voted 11 to 2 to recommend the elimination of the existing statewide Board of Education in favor of elected county boards. Somehow, those in power with vested interest n the current system managed to scuttle every attempt to get this proposition on the ballot for the next general election to let the people decide.

The 15-member task force was comprised of educators, parents, business people and was chaired by Lt. Gov. Benjamin Cayetano. Now, Gov. Cayetano’s successor is similarly committed to local elected school boards.

The issue is true reform, and the answer is to break up the only statewide school district in the nation.

”’Rep. Galen Fox, R-Waikiki, is the House Minority Leader and can be reached at:”’ mailto:repfox@capitol.hawaii.gov