Sunday, October 17, 2010


Elected or appointed school board? Better to work on job creation

by Larry Geller

As Hawaii’s educational system continues to disappoint, the fix du jour is to appoint rather than elect Board of Education members. By itself, this is likely to have little beneficial effect. There are other changes that could be made to how the state’s boards and commissions operate that could deliver more value. In the end, though, the educational system is unlikely to improve whether the BOE is elected or appointed unless very specific demands are placed upon it.

While every child deserves the best education we can provide, the educational system here and in many other states is under little real pressure to improve despite the best efforts of advocates, many of whom are interested in “reform” for other than educational objectives.

Most often these days “educational reform” is a code phrase for privatization or union busting, which only positions children as political pawns in an economic or political struggle and confounds attempts to bring about genuine improvement.

Real reform depends on parents, employers, or both, making demands on the system. Generally, for better or for worse, this is related to job availability.

School systems bend to supply graduates who fulfill a need. As an example, when the USSR launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, the US Government put a priority on engineering and science jobs. Radio and TV were full of space and satellite coverage. Schools and universities responded and students jumped at the opportunity to work in these well-paying fields.

In Hawaii, job pressure on schools has been largely absent. Our educational system responds well to the needs we have placed on it–students are well equipped to handle the generally low-paying, low-skill jobs in tourism or hospitality.

As to parent pressure, it has been noticeably absent. Parents are not pounding the pavement on Miller Street for better schools. When the battle raged between Governor Lingle and the BOE over splitting up the Board, the Legislature responded with Act 51. Surprisingly few parents showed up at the Legislature to give testimony.

Complicating improvement is the dilemma that if students excel and wish to make the best use of their high marks, it too often means leaving Hawaii for opportunities that can be found only on the Mainland.

An appointed school board will certainly be responsible to the governor first rather than to students or parents who will no longer be electing or re-electing it. It’s not strange that present and former governors would favor this. There’s a saying in politics that “personnel is policy.” Governors want appointees when they can get them. But if board members are responsible to their master's agenda, then they are not serving the people. When Lingle has had a chance to get someone on the BOE that’s exactly what happened.

The governor’s manipulation of the UH Regents is well-documented and resulted in a change in the appointment procedures to contain the damage–now she must choose from a list.

It’s very possible to sharpen the skills of board and commission members, though. One state council requires appointees to read through a rather thick binder of state and federal rules and regulations. It also provided new members with a half-day seminar conducted by the Office of Information Practices on Hawaii’s open meeting and open records laws, and another on ethics. The OIP presentation included a quiz.

A required program could be put in place for BOE members that would contribute to competence and better decisions on behalf of the students. Would it be too radical to grade them on what they have learned? Why shouldn’t all of Hawaii’s boards, commissions or councils be required to have specific education in their fields of responsibility? Why shouldn’t all of them be given instruction in open meetings, open records and ethics?

IMHO, the BOE should be required to take some classes after election. Some education is already required, for example, in the federal IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Yet the BOE has (to the best of my knowledge) never educated themselves. They are required to have that education so that they can make decisions on special needs issues. Years ago I had to cite the law at a BOE meeting because they were clueless about it. And then I was asked where they can get that education!

To assist voters in choosing among the candidates, the newspaper could have done much more. Henry Curtis provided useful information on Disappeared News that was widely referred to. The large number of hits on his article was perhaps driven by Googlers seeking information to guide their vote for BOE candidates.

Given more information and even a cheat-sheet to take to the voting place, maybe voters would not leave so many blanks under the BOE heading.

Our elected BOE is certainly in need of improvement, but at least they are responsible to parents and to the kids. An appointed board just has to do what the governor wants of them. For example, had the current board been appointed, Hawaii schools may have had as many as 30 furlough days last year. A vote against the governor’s agenda would mean replacement the next time around.

Bottom line, education will improve only when there is real pressure on schools in response to the job market, or to parent pressure. If we knew how to create demanding, high-paying jobs, it would not take long for the system to respond. Unfortunately, we don’t have those jobs yet, and none are in sight.



Aloha Larry,

Great Piece. Mahalo.

The State requires that members of boards and commissions file financial disclosure statements, but for the most part forbids public release of the disclosure information.

A few exceptions are for the Board of Education and OHA.

State law forbids the disclosure for most boards and commissions, such as Board of Land and Natural Resources, Land Use Commission, Public Utilities Commission, and the Water Commission, and perhaps a new Education Board.

A cynic would say that this allows the Governor to know the pressure points of trustees of the public interest, but denies members of the public from knowing about potential conflicts of interest.

A bill was introduced this past session to rectify a small part of the problem (SB 2224), but the bill quickly died.

Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) §84-17 Requirements of disclosure. ... (c) The following persons shall file annually with the state ethics commission a disclosure of financial interests ... (d) The financial disclosure statements of the following persons shall be public records and available for inspection and duplication
Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) §84-17

SB 2224 (2010):

Actually, there are many exceptions, because:

"The members of every state board or commission whose original terms of office are for periods exceeding one year and whose functions are not solely advisory;"

So, for example, I'm on the State Rehabilitation Council, which is advisory. There are many others, perhaps (?) the ma majority.

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