Who will pick the BOE? | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Who will pick the BOE?

    Dyanna Okazaki, parent of three children who attend Hahaione Elementary School, spoke at a press conference in August at the Board of Education Building, in support of an appointed school board.


After parting ways with the New England Patriots in a dispute over whether the head coach or general manager had final say in the draft of college players, Bill Parcells famously grumbled, "They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for the groceries."

On Nov. 2, Hawaii voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment calling for the governor to appoint members of the Board of Education. Backers of the measure said its passage was a clear call for accountability in Hawaii’s struggling public school system.

Now, about those groceries. …

The amendment came with legislation — House Bill 2377 — spelling out how the new board would be chosen. But that bill was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle, leaving the switchover without a selection process and thus in limbo.

A delay is certain to annoy some, particularly lawmakers who want to see an appointed board seated as quickly as possible. But a pause also would allow for a discussion of direct accountability in state government and how it relates to whether education reforms actually move forward from this point.

You see, under HB 2377, the governor would not get to shop alone. In fact, he would not even be involved in making the list.

The bill called for creation of an advisory panel that would submit names of candidates to the governor, who would then have to select from those recommendations before offering them up for Senate confirmation.

Legislators say the process is proven, having been modeled after those used to select University of Hawaii regents and state judges.

Critics say that is precisely the problem: If the purpose of an appointed school board is to place accountability squarely in the hands of the governor, how can he not be allowed to pick members of his choice?

What, they wonder, could be more accountable than that?

There is change. And then there is real change. Transformational change.

On Nov. 2, Hawaii voters chose to give up their right to pick members of the Board of Education and passed that responsibility to the governor.

Opponents said there was no evidence to suggest an appointed board was better than an elected one, and they were right. But there also was no disputing that Hawaii’s public schools have struggled mightily for decades.


Here’s how the Board of Education would look and how members would be chosen under House Bill 2377, which was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle in the last session:
» The board would consist of 10 members, nine voting members and one non-voting public school student.
» The breakdown would be: One member from the Big Island, one from Maui County, one from Kauai and six from Oahu.
» The governor would appoint members, subject to consent of the Senate, "from lists of qualified candidates presented to the governor by the board of education selection advisory council."
» The selection advisory council would comprise seven members: One appointed by the governor, one by the Senate president, one by the House speaker and four by the Hawaii P-20 Council, a group of leaders from education, business, labor, govnerment and the community.

Given a choice, a voting public frustrated by budget cuts and teacher furloughs, but mostly just fed up with a system that too often was a Hydra snapping at itself, delivered a strong and clear message at the polls.

Now — with Hawaii in the midst of ambitious educational initiatives, with millions of dollars already committed to turning around low-performing schools, improving teacher effectiveness and boosting student achievement — an opportunity exists for a cultural shift in the governance of public schools, a systemic transformation of the way roles and duties and authority are defined that could finally result in real and lasting reforms.

Or not.

It starts with accountability — specifically, the lack of it. In a Jan. 31 Honolulu Advertiser commentary calling for an appointed board, former governors George Ariyoshi, John Waihee and Ben Cayetano wrote: "The present system is controlled collectively by the Board of Education, Legislature and governor. It’s as if we have a single car with three very different drivers, each trying to navigate a different route while arguing with each other. …

"… The governor, Legislature and elected school board all share responsibility for education. (But) shared power means no one is fully accountable, and each group blames the others for its failures."

The former governors concluded: "By giving ultimate responsibility to a single elected official — the governor — real reforms can happen."

Gov. Linda Lingle proposed making the Department of Education a cabinet-level department, with the schools superintendent chosen by the governor instead of the BOE, but her point was essentially the same: Somebody needed to be held accountable or the system would not change.

University of Hawaii law professor Randy Roth, who served as an educational adviser in the Lingle administration, says moves by the Legislature to revive vetoed House Bill 2377 — which calls for creation of a nominating council that will present names of potential board members for the governor to choose from — will only continue to stymie change.

"If the governor has the freedom to select who he wants, it seems to me the governor is accountable," Roth says. "He is now in position to make a difference, for better or worse. I put great weight in transparency and accountability. And, really, what could be more transparent and accountable than the governor choosing the people he wants?"

State Rep. Roy Takumi and Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairs of the Legislature’s education committees, say it is a matter of due diligence, and that public education is far too important to be left solely to the governor.

"Last session, when the appointed BOE bills were being heard, it was clear that while many groups and individuals were supportive of having an appointed rather than an elected BOE, they weren’t comfortable with moving from a system where every voter in the state can choose the BOE membership to a system where one person decides," Takumi says.

"In the abstract, does having a reviewing body that comes up with a list of qualified candidates for consideration ‘take away’ from the authority of the governor to make unilateral appointments? No doubt.

"But does it also ensure that there are checks and balances between the desire for a governor to have sole authority and the public’s concern that there ought to be a mechanism to minimize political cronies from getting appointed? I think so."

Roth argues that review and nomination panels don’t eliminate politics, they just move them behind closed doors. Either the governor chooses his board and is accountable for its actions, or a panel picks the short list for him and again no one is accountable.

"Any governor who knows he’s going to personally be held accountable is going to make sure the board is filled with the right people — and the right mix of people," Roth says. "Everything would be out in the open. And the governor would still have to put his selections up before the Senate for confirmation, if they’re worried about checks and balances."

Colbert Matsumoto, chief executive of Island Insurance Co. and another strong advocate for an appointed board, says he has been following the talk about the selection process "with interest and apprehension … because too often we get caught up focused on process rather than outcomes and I hope that doesn’t prove to be true in this case."

Matsumoto says fundamental change of another kind must also take place if educational reforms are to succeed. "In my view, changing the appointment process for the BOE will be meaningless if the new appointed BOE doesn’t comprehend its limited role and authority," he says.

Matsumoto says the state Constitution clearly defines the board’s duties: Formulate statewide educational policy and appoint a superintendent to act as the CEO of the public school system. In other words, to govern, not manage.

"We currently have a BOE that doesn’t grasp those limitations and has ended up becoming more of an obstacle to education reform and progress than a facilitator of those goals," he says.

"We need empowered leadership committed to reform and improvement of our public schools. … We need a BOE and (a superintendent) that are in synch and working to achieve the same goals. So whatever the final process for appointing the BOE members might be, so long as the governor appoints people who understand their limited role and don’t undermine the leadership of the CEO of the public school system, we might see real progress in our schools."

What the final appointment process turns out to be remains anyone’s guess.

Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie indicated earlier that he wanted to choose his own board members but now appears to be taking a conciliatory approach. A three-point memo from his staff says Abercrombie wants to hear different views on the process, will work with legislators to pass enabling legislation and wants the matter "resolved quickly and in a way that best reflects the voters’ decision and serves the public interest."

Tokuda, who met with Abercrombie, says the governor-elect wasn’t ready to commit to a process, but "the positive message was that we all want to communicate and work together. I think we all agree on the goals."

Tokuda says she and Takumi will both have bills ready on opening day of the session in January and that the legislation almost certainly will contain selection oversight provisions.

Takumi says they are eager to heed the voters’ call for change and could have a new board seated as soon as March — provided an agreement can be reached on a process.

"That’s the hope," Takumi says. "Realistically, though, if there are a lot of changes to be made — if the House has one bill and the Senate comes up with its own and the governor has one — it could be May before anything happens."

In the meantime, Roth says, he remains "guardedly optimistic because of what the governor-elect said during the campaign about doing what he could to create mechanisms for accountability.

"I really believe in the public’s ability to influence elected officials into doing the right thing as opposed to the politically convenient things to do. I think Gov. Abercrombie could use his bully pulpit to put legislators under the microscope as to whether they were acting in a way that was likely to improve public education in Hawaii or obstruct efforts to improve the situation.

"But we’ll have to wait and see. Part of the problem has been that the Legislature has often functioned like a super school board and involved itself in micromanagement. The ballot proposal was a step in the right direction, but the Legislature has been part of the problem in the past."


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