Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he wanted to take responsibility for public education in Hawaii, and it looks like he’ll get the chance with legislators in agreement that he should appoint members of his choosing to the Board of Education instead of picking from an advisory panel’s list.
It will give him power no previous governor enjoyed to decide who sets policy for the public schools.
Voters will expect the governor to use his new power to produce quick and significant improvement from an elected BOE that’s been paralyzed by indecision, infighting, partisan politics and special-interest demands.
The biggest fallacy in the debate over education reform in Hawaii has been that systems of governance don’t matter, that it’s all about getting resources to the classrooms.
What proponents of this viewpoint never understood is that good governance is exactly how resources get to the classrooms.
Kamehameha Schools is worlds apart from the public schools, but its experience since the trustee scandal of the late 1990s is nevertheless a good example of the difference better governance can make.
Before the former trustees were removed by the courts, they neglected the needs of Hawaiian kids — especially those beyond the Kapalama campus — to finance their speculative investments.
The new trustees, working with the same resources, built new Kamehameha campuses on Maui and the Big Island, funded outreach programs that touch tens of thousands of children throughout the state, sponsored public charter schools in Hawaiian communities, funded preschool and kindergarten scholarships, and helped pay for Hawaiian children to go to college.
It was about serving the kids ahead of adult "stakeholders" who feed off the schools, and the same ethic must guide Abercrombie in making his appointments to the BOE.
He needs to forget about covering political bases and appoint highly qualified people who can work together to get the job done. The governor made a good start by naming First Hawaiian Bank CEO Don Horner to the board after Lei Ahu Isa resigned.
The new school board doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel; Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi and her team have a solid "Race to the Top" plan that won the state a $75 million federal grant to institute performance-based contracts for teachers and principals, fix underperforming schools, improve curriculum and streamline the system.
The main role of the BOE will be to set achievable goals, align resources to the highest priorities and hold all parties to their promises to make the plan work.
Voters don’t expect the long-standing problems of our public schools to be solved overnight, but they do expect a lot less drama and a lot more progress.
If Abercrombie doesn’t produce it with the free hand given him, voters will know exactly where accountability lies.