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Voters favor appointed BOE

Furloughs influence the decision to let governors pick future members of the board

By Susan Essoyan

LAST UPDATED: 2:41 a.m. HST, Nov 3, 2010

Frustrated with Furlough Fridays and ready to try something different to help Hawaii's schools, voters gave up their right to select members of the Board of Education and handed that power back to the governor.

"I strongly believe this is an important first step in helping our public education system," said Randy Baldemor, chairman of Hawaii's Children First, which promoted an appointed board with a big advertising campaign. "Public education becomes part of the governor's agenda, and it receives a bigger spotlight."

The constitutional amendment to switch to an appointed school board captured 57 percent of the vote yesterday, with 43 percent voting "no" or leaving it blank. Two previous attempts to shift from an elected board to an appointed board failed, in 1970 and 1994. But this time, things were different.

The decision to shut students out of Hawaii's schools for 17 Fridays because of budget cuts last year outraged parents and gave the public education system a black eye across the nation. It also spurred the push to alter the way policy is made for public schools, although both the governor and the board signed off on the furlough deal.

The constitutional amendment provides that the governor shall nominate and appoint the members of the Board of Education, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Hawaii had an appointed board until 1966, when voters began electing board members. The 14-member school board hires the superintendent and sets statewide policy for the public schools.

Supporters say an appointed board would work better with the governor, and its members would be chosen based on education and experience rather than name recognition. The proposal attracted support from former Superintendent Pat Hamamoto and former governors.

Like many voters, Barbara Arnold of Makiki said she did not know enough about the school board candidates to make an informed decision in electing them.

"You don't hear about them, you don't know anything about them," Arnold said after casting her vote for an appointed board at Lincoln Elementary. "Whoever is doing the appointing must know more about it than I do."

But other citizens were reluctant to give up their right to vote, saying the people should have a strong voice in setting policy for public schools.

"I think the people should have a say in the board instead of having a politician take over," said John Deliso, 55, of Makiki before voting yesterday.

Board Chairman Garrett Toguchi said that without an independent, elected board, there would have been far more furlough days, as originally proposed by the governor.

"I definitely think that if it weren't for the half a million dollars spent on advertising, most of which came from one person, the vote would have been overwhelmingly against an appointed board," Toguchi said.

Hawaii's Children First, a ballot question committee, spent $504,000 through Oct. 18 to promote an appointed board, with $362,000 coming from investment banker Bill Reeves, according to state campaign filings. The Hawaii State Teachers Association estimated it spent $80,000 to oppose the measure, but said it looked forward to working with Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie and the new board.

"It's fortunate that we have a pro-education governor," said HSTA President Wil Okabe.

It is not clear when the appointed board will take over because Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a bill detailing the appointment process, and lawmakers will take up that question in January.


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