POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 18, 2010
The Hawaii State Constitution empowers the Board of Education "to formulate statewide educational policy and appoint the superintendent of education as the chief executive officer of the public school system."
The superintendent is responsible for managing the Department of Education, and the BOE is limited to governance.
In disregard of this clear division of authority, for many years the BOE has involved itself directly in management functions. When members of a governing board attempt to manage, it's usually called micromanagement and can threaten the success of any organization.
Hawaii's DOE operates 257 regular schools. Its $2.4 billion budget is the largest in the state and its employees outnumber those of the state's eight largest private employers combined. In such a large enterprise, micromanagement by board members is more than just a nuisance -- it creates chaos by confusing and frustrating key employees, and subverts the superintendent's authority.
Private conversations with present and past DOE administrators convince me that this problem is much bigger than the public realizes. Too often the BOE has acted as though the superintendent were its operative or a mere functionary, rather than the system's chief executive officer.
A former BOE member, Paul Vierling, has expressed his own concerns about board interference and competence: "More than a few board members have axes to grind, and the culture seems to be, 'I'll let you grind your ax if you let me grind mine.' They act like politicians, constantly making deals to get their pet programs approved. They get into details that shouldn't concern them, and then manage by crisis and reaction rather than vision and proactively."
Despite its limited role under Hawaii's Constitution, the 14-member BOE has its own staff of 13 employees, an executive director whose pay at $123,600 is more than the governor and rivals that of the superintendent, and an annual budget of almost $1 million.
Its seven standing and three ad hoc committees tied up the superintendent, her deputy superintendents and dozens of DOE staff members for countless hours at 87 meetings last school year. (Board members, by the way, are paid for each meeting.)
Also disturbing is how the elected BOE is using DOE resources to campaign against the ballot proposal to change to an appointed board. Such use of public funds is self-serving and may be improper. At the very least, it suggests a callous disregard of a public schools system reeling from huge budget cuts.
Presumably the BOE's micromanagement stems from a sincere desire to improve public education.
Regardless of the motivation, such behavior violates both the letter and spirit of the Constitution and is just not consistent with good governance practices. In the opinion of many public education advocates, the BOE's micromanaging ways is a key reason why Hawaii's public education system has been stymied in implementing meaningful reforms and achieving progress.
For these and other reasons, I support voting yes for an appointed board. Any governor who expects to be held accountable for systemwide results is likely to seek out individuals with expertise that is diverse and relevant, and who are willing to function solely as members of a governing board. If not, voters will know exactly who to hold accountable -- the governor.