State lawmakers have crafted a measure, Senate Bill 8, that strikes a reasonable balance between warring impulses on forming an appointed school board. One is to put the governor squarely in charge of picking the Board of Education and then hold him entirely accountable for how well it functions. The other is to limit his selections, to avoid patronage and cronyism on a governing body wielding such influence over how and what Hawaii’s children learn.
The middle ground is what lawmakers have staked out in SB 8, House Draft 2, which deserves to pass final reading tomorrow in the state Senate and be signed into law.
State Rep. Roy Takumi, House Education chairman, said the final wording took shape in discussions with advocates education reform. These included grassroots groups such as Save Our Schools, which lobbied hard against school furloughs, as well as those active in the push to convert Hawaii’s elected school board to an appointed body. Some had pressed for the establishment of a selection commission to draw up a list of candidates from which the governor would appoint.
However, Takumi said the Senate’s overwhelming vote in favor of giving the governor complete rein over appointments signaled that the commission idea had little chance of surviving a conference committee. Instead, the House decided to insert language defining some minimum qualifications:
» A record of integrity, civic virtue and high ethical standards.
» Availability for constructive engagement — being a "conscientious and attentive board member."
» Knowledge of best practices in educational governance, or willingness to be trained in them.
» Commitment to educational leadership.
It’s hard to dispute these qualities as essential. There are other "recommended qualifications," such as understanding collective bargaining, experience in governing complex organizations, collaborative leadership ability and a record of "a deep and abiding interest in education and a dedication to the social, academic and character development of young people."
It would be possible to fit many candidates under that umbrella, but at least the governor would need to build the case for the nominees and persuade the Senate to confirm them.
Takumi said including qualifications also gave lawmakers and stakeholders a level of comfort they otherwise may have lacked. For example, Takumi said, some expressed concern after Gov. Neil Abercrombie declined to release the names of contenders for a vacancy on the state Supreme Court: They worried that this might indicate less transparency about appointments than they’d like.
Other elements in the bill help in achieving balance, including fair geographic representation. Among the nine members is one each from Maui, Hawaii and Kauai counties, three from Oahu and three at large. The governor is allowed to name one of the at-large members to chair the board, a prerogative that helps to drive the administration’s educational agenda. The governor can replace the chairperson at will, but members cannot be entirely ousted from the board without cause. Finally, the overlapping three-year terms provides for some continuity between state administrations.
Lawmakers have left intact the existing duties of the school board, including its rulemaking, policymaking and fiscal authority. That’s as it should be. Over time there may be reason for other tweaks in board form or function, but SB 8 represents a good first step toward creating a well-equipped and accountable Board of Education. All that’s left is for the Senate to take that step, pass the bill, and prepare to do its due diligence when Abercrombie offers up his first slate of appointees.