comscore Elected board represents the people, not politicians
Editorial | Island Voices

Elected board represents the people, not politicians

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    Politics and policy intersect at a Board of Education meeting in 2009. Then-schools superintendent Patricia Hamamoto, BOE Chairman Garrett Toguchi and board member Karen Knudsen listened as Sen. J. Kalani English testifies.

On Nov. 2, Hawaii voters will decide whether to continue electing the Board of Education, or to give up their right to vote and allow politicians to select BOE members. A "yes" vote will give the governor authority to appoint BOE members. A "no" vote will ensure the public voice in an elected and representative BOE that is directly accountable to the people.

In the 1960s, Hawaii had an appointed BOE. Parents and teachers complained that appointed BOE members were unqualified, unaccountable, politically selected, out of touch and used students as political pawns. Despite widespread dissatisfaction, the governor could not be held accountable. Voters responded by doing away with the appointed BOE in favor of an elected BOE, and have twice rejected appointed-BOE amendments.

Voters today have important reasons to keep the elected BOE. Politically appointed boards often only represent the interests of the person who appoints members, in this case, the governor.

An appointed BOE could have devastating consequences to education funding in Hawaii, especially when resources are scarce. In my 20 years on the BOE, no governor – Democrat or Republican – ever submitted an education budget that equaled or exceeded the amount requested by the BOE. Often, the differences have been dramatic.

For state agencies under a governor-appointed director, the governor’s decision is final – take it or leave it. Rather than sit back year after year and accept the governor’s lowered education budget, your independent BOE fights for adequate funding necessary to keep campuses properly maintained and equipped, and to provide educators the resources and support they need to prepare students for college and careers.

The elected BOE does not have to worry about being fired by the governor whenever we disagree.

Those calling for an appointed BOE claim the public is uninformed and apathetic. They say people vote only on name recognition, or don’t vote at all.

When I was first elected in 1990 as the mother of two public school students, I was unknown and had none of the assumed election advantages. Still, through grassroots campaigning, attending candidate forums, sign waving and responding to voter education guides, I was elected over two well-known incumbents and even the mayor’s son.

As for not voting at all? In 2008, more than 1,093,000 votes were cast in BOE races. It typically takes at least 100,000 votes to win one of the Oahu seats. In my five elections, I’ve received as many as 148,000 votes. It is truly inaccurate to say no one is voting, and to say those who vote don’t know the candidates.

The 2010 gubernatorial election is a toss-up. An appointed BOE would differ significantly under the two contenders. I’d rather make my own choices and elect BOE members than leave it to chance.

Although we still have much work to do, student achievement in Hawaii’s public schools has been steadily rising under demanding academic standards that received a letter grade "A" from Harvard University. The federal government recently awarded Hawaii its prestigious and highly competitive Race to the Top grant to implement rigorous reforms.

We should stay the course . Research shows a politically appointed BOE will do nothing to improve schools. For this election, please take the time to review the BOE candidates, make informed choices, and keep your right to vote by saying "No" to an appointed BOE.

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