Tuesday, November 24, 2015         


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Apathy and accountability knock heads over school board

By Cynthia Oi


When arguing for an appointed state Board of Education, proponents often cite low voter turnout as one reason for removing citizens' direct voices in choosing who sits on the board.

So there's a certain strangeness in asking the same few voters to cast their meager ballots on whether to shed themselves of the opportunity -- and responsibility -- to elect board members.

Yet that's what's happening with a constitutional amendment this year. People who manage to make it to the polls will blacken either of the little ovals next to "yes" or "no" after the question that reads, "Shall the Board of Education be changed to a board appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, as provided by law?"

If there are more "yes" pukas colored in than the total number of "no," blank or overvotes (meaning both "yes" and "no" are marked), the amendment will pass and voters will be free of the burden of having to pick the people who hire the superintendent, determine policies and frame a budget for the public school system.

Voters will no longer have to bother studying candidates, their backgrounds and qualifications for the office. They won't have to figure out which are district seats and at-large seats and the differences between them. They won't have to sort out the unfamiliar names from the kind-of-recognizable ones or be confused about what the heck a television news anchor is doing running for school board.

The amendment would allow the governor to appoint members with the approval of the Senate.

Sounds simple and straightforward, no?

However, the process to get to that point hasn't been settled.

An indication of how that would go came in an unsuccessful bill lawmakers proposed last session.

Under the measure, the process would start with a panel selected by legislators, the governor and a group of education advocates and experts.

That panel would review prospective school board members and make a list of them.

From that list, the governor would nominate someone.

Then the Senate would take a look at that someone, maybe hold some hearings, and vote through a committee or committees, and as a whole, to approve or reject the nominee.

The method is similar to the way the University of Hawaii's Board of Regents is chosen, a governing body whose members I suspect most of the voting public would have to Google to identify.

What animates the discussion about the school board is accountability, the byword of hope and restoration for the real and perceived failures of a sprawling education system.

An appointed board will lead to more accountability, those favoring the amendment say, because as matters now stand it is too diffused, steered by lawmakers and the board with the governor holding the purse strings.

I'm not sure about the amendment, but keeping the status quo doesn't seem to be much of an option.

And if apathy about voting translates into apathy and parental disinterest in the programs, teachers and principals at the schools their children attend, an elected or appointed board certainly won't make a difference.

Cynthia Oi can be reached at coi@staradvertiser.com.

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