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Hawaii News

Senate panel approves school board nominees

Four Board of Education nominees, each with a long list of supporters, easily made it through a Senate confirmation hearing yesterday.

After hearing about two hours of testimony, the Senate Education Committee voted unanimously to recommend confirmation of the nominees, as they did with five other appointees earlier this week.

The full Senate is set to vote on all nine appointees Thursday.

The nominees at yesterday’s hearing were Kauai attorney Nancy Budd; Charlene Cuaresma, associate director of the Graduate Professional Access Program at the University of Hawaii; Cheryl Kauhane Lupenui, chief executive officer of YWCA-Oahu; and Keith Amemiya, executive administrator and secretary of the UH Board of Regents.

Senators asked the four how their diverse backgrounds would help improve Hawaii schools and what they saw as key goals for the board.

Several said they believed the Board of Education needed to do a better job of defining its role — and not micromanaging a department pushing forward on big reforms for public schools amid mounting budget woes.

"I view our role as a policymaking entity and not one that should be involved in the day-to-day details of running (the Department of Education)," Amemiya said.

Lupenui said the board also needs to set about building "the public’s trust and confidence in its newly appointed BOE."

Voters overwhelmingly approved in November switching to a board appointed by the governor.

The new board plans to hold its first meeting April 26 and has pledged to tackle a full agenda.

Yesterday, dozens of people submitted testimony supporting the nominees; no one testified against the governor’s picks.

In an emotional moment at the hearing, Cuaresma’s 83-year-old father, Alfredo, told senators that his daughter will serve Hawaii students well "because she will not forget where she came from."

"My wife died when Charlene was 11 years old," he said, pausing to control tears. "Charlene became the mother of the house and took care of her brothers and sisters. I worked two to three jobs. She understands the struggles of families."

Cuaresma said it is vital that schools ensure students of all socioeconomic background get the same opportunities.

"I want to be a good steward of our educational system for all of Hawaii’s schoolchildren," she said.

Budd, the attorney, whose term will expire in 2012, said she comes from a family that values education highly and will be a strong parent advocate on the board. Her mother, she said, served on a board of education in California and was a teacher.

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