Tuesday, November 24, 2015         


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School Board: It's time for a better way

Let the governor appoint the Board of Education and be held accountable

By Dyanna Okazaki


As a mother of three children in our public schools, I strongly support the constitutional amendment for an appointed Board of Education.

As with other parents, the 17 Furlough Fridays bewildered me and left me frustrated. Looking into what led to this situation, I distinctly recall feeling like the public school system was in chaos and could not respond. It seemed that everybody had a voice except the parents and the children.

I learned that no other school system in the nation suffered the loss of so many instructional days because of a budget shortfall. There was finger pointing all around. Blame the governor; blame the BOE; or blame the unions. But with my children losing instructional time as each furlough day passed, I just wanted someone to take responsibility for fixing the problem.

As far as I was concerned, this was the BOE's final exam and moment of truth. It failed miserably. To hear the U.S. secretary of education and the national media ridicule what was happening in Hawaii -- and reinforce longstanding negative perceptions and stereotypes of our public education system -- was an avoidable disgrace.

I listened to those advocating for a governor-appointed Board of Education. At first, it seemed counterintuitive: Why would anyone give up a right to vote and rely upon appointed board members? Then I thought: "Wait a minute, I am a strong proponent of public education and I am very involved in my children's school, yet I couldn't name a single member of the BOE or describe their roles." It is not that I wanted to be ignorant; it just seemed that the process of electing BOE members has never gained the attention, exposure and public debate we associate with rigorous elections. It was then I realized it was time to reassess my assumptions and consider practical and thoughtful alternatives.

First, I understood that just because someone is elected does not mean I have a voice. In fact, I felt like I had no voice at all in the furlough decision that affected me and my family in a very significant and personal way. The attitude was: We know what is best for you and whatever we decide among ourselves in private talks will be what you get.

Second, I understood that just because candidates are elected does not mean they are qualified to run one of the largest school systems in the nation. Some claim that the integrity of public education is safeguarded by an elected BOE. However, this is based more on hope than on experience.

Third, during the crisis I understood that the entire system was suffering from a lack of clear accountability. If no one is accountable for Furlough Fridays, then I must assume no one is accountable for any other important or difficult decision.

Since then, I have learned that, according to Education Week's Quality Counts Report (2010), of the top 10 states in terms of standards, assessments, accountability, teaching profession and school finance, the clear majority have appointed boards, not elected boards. Statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- the nation's benchmark on student achievement -- also show state public education systems with appointed school boards correlate with high student achievement scores.

I am now firmly convinced that having the governor appoint the members of the Board of Education will be better than the current system of electing people whom most voters don't know. It will, at the very least, make the governor more accountable for education and, in all likelihood, provide more qualified, experienced and able board members.

Our public schools have struggled during more than 40 years of electing the members of the Board of Education. An appointed board is not a cure-all but its benefits and promise of accountability are better than the status quo.

We must vote for an appointed Board of Education. That will be a crucial first step toward the goal of positive change in public education.

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