Saturday, November 28, 2015         


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Fix for schools entails more than shift in board selection

By Lee Cataluna


Forty-six years ago the cure for lackluster achievement and wasted money was to directly elect school board members, taking the school board appointment power away from the governor.

Here we sit, being asked to decide that this bold experiment in democracy is a failure.

Just a few years ago, we were told that the only way to fix our public schools was if community members got more involved. Now the new thing is to get us uninformed meddlers out of the mix and have the governor use the board appointments as patronage. They'll take our empty beer cans for HI-5 recycling, but they don't want us to vote because we aren't sophisticated enough to pick good people.

How insulting. They say it's about accountability, but what they mean is we're too stupid to tell Pamela Young from TV Pamela Young and Larry Price from radio Larry Price.

Here's something to worry about: If Neil Abercrombie is governor, who is he going to appoint to the board? A bunch of idea-heavy, real-world-light retired professors he's known since back in the day and Democratic Party die-hards who move from one state job to another, as if sewers, tourism and public schools are pretty much the same thing?

If Duke Aiona becomes governor, who is he going to appoint? The pool of Republican usuals is much smaller but no less tiresome. Are they going to get tangled up in extraneous issues like flu shots and flag poles and banning "Catcher in the Rye"?

The University of Hawaii Board of Regents is appointed by the governor, and though they've been quiet in recent years, it wasn't long ago a teeming mess of political machinations. Hardly an example to emulate.

One of the reasons put forward for having a school board appointed by the governor is last year's firestorm of protests over Furlough Fridays and the shame of Hawaii having the shortest school year in the country. The argument goes that with an appointed school board, Furlough Fridays would have never happened. Let's not forget that Gov. Linda Lingle was right at the center of Furlough Fridays, signing off on the agreement with the teachers and digging in when parents and protesters staged a sit-in in her office. If she had appointed the Board of Education, her appointees would likely have done her bidding, and the situation would have played out just as it did -- badly.

Elected versus appointed school boards? The problem with Hawaii schools won't be solved by changing the way people are picked to sit in the oversize chairs in that upstairs meeting room on Punchbowl Street. The problems are much closer to the ground.

Lee Cataluna can be reached at

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