|This story has been corrected.|
Most school systems across the country are careful not to allow a school principal to hire or supervise his or her relatives. But that rule against nepotism appears to be among those ignored in some charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated, in Hawaii and other states. Legislative action is needed to prohibit schools from becoming family trees.
Myron B. Thompson Academy Public Charter School is an extreme example of ohana run amok. The online school’s principal is Diana Oshiro, whose sister Kurumi Kaapana-Aki is vice principal while working full time as a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant. Sons of Kaapana-Aki are employed part-time as athletic director (the school has had no sports teams for two years), film instructor and clerk.
Charter schools have been praised for providing choice for families and new opportunities for their students. But warnings began a decade ago that improvements were needed at the state level to ensure their effectiveness.
That has not happened sufficiently. In Colorado, the founder of a charter five-school network was discovered this year to have hired more than 20 family members during a six-year period. The New York Daily News reported that some of the Big Apple’s charter schools have hired wives, husbands and children of school officials and board trustees as vendors, teacher aides and consultants.
New Mexico law exempts charter schools from a law prohibiting head administrators from hiring close relatives, allowing an Albuquerque charter school principal to draw a salary of $120,000 while her son makes $45,000 as dean of students and her brother makes $30,000 as a part-time bookkeeper.
Diana Oshiro told the Star-Advertiser’s Susan Essoyan that she picks "certain people with certain characteristics and blind loyalty" to work under her. "I don’t know how to explain it except that’s the way it is."
That way has been lucrative for Oshiro and her relatives. Salaries for school principals under the Hawaii union contract range from $72,500 to $162,400 for principals and $58,400 to $130,900 for vice principals. Each of two of her sister’s sons, neither of whom has more than an associate’s degree, is paid $28,800 a year for his part-time job, while the clerk brings in $22,100.
The fact that Thompson Academy’s own school board was unaware of the situation casts serious questions on accountability and standards, use of taxpayer funds and best practices on behalf of charter-school students.
Hawaii’s charter schools have their own school boards, which hire the principals, who choose the staffs. Maunalei Love, the Charter School Administrative Office’s executive director, said the office has no policy on nepotism "because we’re not trying to tell them what to do." After the Star-Advertiser began its inquiry, Ruth Tschumy, chairwoman of the Charter School Review Panel, said she asked Love’s office to "write a sample best hiring practice that schools might use."
That is a start, but not enough. Hawaii law bans state employees from taking discretionary action that affects their own financial interests or those of their spouses or dependent children. At the very least, that prohibition should be extended to charter school principals.
» Diana Oshiro, principal of the Myron B. Thompson Academy Public Charter School, has three nephews working part-time at the school, one of whom recently obtained his associate’s degree from a community college. A Page A11 editorial Wednesday said the men have only high school diplomas.