Monday, July 28, 2014         

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Debate might hold up switch to appointed BOE

Lawmakers are likely to introduce two bills to govern the process

By Mary Vorsino


Disagreement over how members of an appointed school board should be chosen could delay implementing a voter mandate to do away with an elected board.

Lawmakers have pledged to act quickly on a bill that would spell out the process under which the governor would choose a new state Board of Education. The problem is that at least two bills are expected to be introduced proposing what that process should look like.

One measure, like the one vetoed last year by then-Gov. Linda Lingle, would set up an advisory council to vet prospective board members and select a limited number of candidates for the governor's consideration. Appointees for nine seats would serve three-year terms. A nonvoting student member would serve two years.

Another bill would do away with the advisory council. BOE members would be chosen by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The measure proposes an 11-member board and would give the student board member a vote.

State Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Education Committee, said she drafted the bill that does not include the advisory council to ensure a clear line of accountability for the board's composition.

Tokuda voted in favor of the advisory council model last session but said the council plan would go against the strong message from voters. "My goal was to provide the public with the kind of accountability they asked for in November," she said.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie has also supported direct appointments.

But others say the advisory council would provide a system of checks and balances. State Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Momilani-Pacific Palisades) said he plans to push the council model forward.

"The vast majority of the Legislature supported it, not just me," Takumi said. "If people feel it's overly cumbersome or it takes away the supreme authority of the governor, we can always change it."

The debate on the process could delay the setup of a new board.

Takumi said lawmakers might not decide on the selection process until May. Legislators had hoped to pass a bill by February so that the governor could act more quickly to appoint members.

"The hope was that we could ... agree on the vehicle. In that situation, obviously, we could have expedited the bill," Takumi said.

Meanwhile, parent groups had mixed reactions on the bills.

Marguerite Higa of the advocacy group Save Our Schools said without the advisory council "there's just too much danger for abuse and political payback" in appointments to the BOE.

But Jo Curran of Hawaii Education Matters said she does not strongly support or oppose either measure, as long as the public is given plenty of chances to weigh in on prospective members.

"I think what people voted for was a better board," Curran said. "How you get a better board is find the best possible candidates."

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