Local School Boards Are Essential

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As a newcomer to Hawaii, I arrived with no preconceived notions about Hawaii’s education system. However, having been involved in education for decades as a teacher, principal, associate superintendent for the Arizona Department of Education and a strong supporter of public education, I am following the debate regarding local school boards with great interest. It does not take long for newcomers to hear over and over that if they want their child to receive a quality education in our state, they had better start checking out the private schools and saving money for the tuition.

The ineffectiveness of Hawaii’s public system is clearly not due to the lack of funding. Spending is sky high. A recent analysis by Bruce Cooper and Bill Ouchi revealed the total per pupil expenditure last year was $10,422 with only 49 cents out of each dollar reaching the classroom. Although the student population has not increased, the state education budget has tripled since 1987, and student achievement remains extremely low. Hawaii ranks last in the nation on SAT and consistently finds itself in the bottom quarter in other national rankings, along side Mississippi and Louisiana.


Nor is this poor performance due to a lack of dedicated and highly qualified teachers. I have had the opportunity to talk with teachers and principals who work long hours but feel frustrated in a bureaucratic state system where they lack authority to help make important decisions regarding their own schools and students.

Most recently I have read and heard comments blaming the students and their parents for low achievement in Hawaii’s public schools. Please do not blame our children and their parents for the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of a state system that no longer meets the needs of our schools and communities.

The fact is that less than 27 percent of the Department of Education employees are in classrooms doing the crucial work of our schools – teaching. What are the other 73 percent of the Department of Education employees doing every day to affect learning? The Department of Education is huge and has proven over and over that it is incapable of reforming itself.

The current system must change. Teachers and principals must be empowered so they can determine what works best for their students in their schools. Clearly, this will only happen when there are local school boards.

I hope the Legislature will let the people of Hawaii decide the future of public education by putting the question of local school boards on the ballot.

”’Billie J. Orr, Ed.D., a resident of Kapolei, can be reached via email at”’ mailto:BillieOrr@aol.com

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