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Hawaii News

Senate education bill advances



» A constitutional amendment approved by Hawaii voters in November to switch to an appointed school board spelled out that appointees would be confirmed by the Senate. The story below implies that Senate confirmation was not part of the amendment.


A Senate bill that would allow the governor to appoint new Board of Education members without candidates first being vetted by an advisory council moved forward yesterday, with support from the unions that represent teachers and principals.

The governor has also supported the direct-appointment bill.

A separate measure before the House, like one vetoed last year by then-Gov. Linda Lingle, would mandate the creation of an advisory council (like the one for the University of Hawaii Board of Regents) to select a limited number of candidates for the governor’s consideration. Supporters of that bill say the council would offer a system of checks and balances and ensure the Board of Education does not become too partisan.

Both bills require the Senate to approve the governor’s selections.

At a Senate hearing yesterday, most supported the measure without the advisory council, saying that the Senate approval process would ensure candidates are qualified.

A handful opposed it, though.

"Accountability does not fall under one branch," said resident Sue Haglund.

Marguerite Higa of the advocacy group Save Our Schools said that "direct appointment is easily abused" and expressed concern that the board would become too politicized.

"Let’s think about this," she told senators yesterday. "With all the power concentrated in the same body, we’re going to amplify the ways in which the system can be abused."

The Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Hawaii Government Employees Association, which represents principals, both said the direct-appointment method represented the will of residents and would set up a direct line of accountability.

"This will mean the governor is accountable for education," said Leiomalama Desha of HGEA.

Voters overwhelmingly supported getting rid of an elected BOE in November, but current board members will continue to serve until a new board is chosen. And a board cannot be picked until the process under which its members are appointed is approved.

Lawmakers have pledged to move quickly to set up that process.

But the competing measures could slow down passage of a bill.

In his State of the State address yesterday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie pushed for an "immediate resolution to the appointed school board issue." He also said that he had already received applications for the new school board through his office’s website.

"I’m prepared to act now," he said.

Senate Bill 8 now goes before the Ways and Means Committee.


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