POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 23, 2011
Voters decided last November that state Board of Education members will be appointed by the governor instead of being elected. Unlike schools elsewhere in the country, Hawaii's education system is part of the state's executive branch — so in the spirit of accountability, board members should be chosen solely by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.
The new constitutional amendment provides that the governor choose the board members, but it did not specify the process — and therein lies the current debate.
Gov. Linda Lingle prudently vetoed a system last year in which the governor would have appointed school board members from a list of candidates chosen by a panel of seven, only one of whom would be picked by the governor. The House speaker and Senate president each would have selected a panel member and the other four would have been chosen by an education organization.
Such a mishmash would fall short of making the school system accountable to the governor, which was the point of the constitutional amendment and the voters' will.
Some legislators say the advisory panel would provide a system of checks and balances — but we say that such a panel dilutes the intent of direct accountability and that checks will be attained via the Senate's confirmation process of BOE members.
Proponents of an advisory panel point out that the process is used to select state judges and University of Hawaii regents. But that's no reason to apply the same system to the Board of Education.
Judges constitute a branch of government independent of the executive and legislative branches; unlike the school system, the governor cannot be held accountable for the performance of the judiciary. Similarly, UH possesses an autonomy over its mission and budget that, as a matter of public policy, limits the governor's ability to manage its affairs.
With the BOE, establishing the accountability of the governor is the whole point.
"No one is accountable now," former Govs. George Ariyoshi, John Waihee and Ben Cayetano asserted in a treatise last year.
They added that shared power among the governor, Legislature and elected school board "means no one is fully accountable, and each group blames the others for its failures."
Lessons cannot be learned from other jurisdictions. School systems in towns, cities and counties typically are financed by revenues from property taxes that cannot be touched by mayors or county councils. That is why members of those school boards are elected.
In Hawaii, the statewide school system shares tax revenue with other executive departments. Thus, state Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, who voted for the advisory panel model last year, now supports a proposal for the governor to make his choices independently from any such panel. "My goal (is) to provide the public with the kind of accountability they asked for in November," Tokuda says.
Staggered terms for BOE members would assure continuity between gubernatorial administrations while giving appointees a degree of independence for the public good that goes beyond the appointing governor's whims.
Legislators should act promptly to pass enabling legislation giving the governor full responsibility for appointing the BOE members. Gov. Neil Abercrombie then can decide whom to nominate to the positions and senators will have time to conduct confirmation hearings before devoting the session to looming budget issues.