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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 14, 2001

Interim chief at DOE gets No. 1 job

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

HAMAMOTO: Named as schools superintendent

The state Board of Education last night named Pat Hamamoto as superintendent of schools, giving the former interim leader a $150,000 salary and a four-year contract.

The decision calls off an anticipated months-long national search for a new schools chief. It also gives a measure of stability to a public school system that has been in turmoil the past year, from a teacher strike in April to the threat of a federal court takeover this fall and, most recently, anticipated budget cuts in the new year.

"The board has confidence in her," board member Karen Knudsen said. "We could not afford to keep everyone in suspense when we felt we already had the right person at the right time."

Hamamoto, the former principal of McKinley High School who, as deputy superintendent, spearheaded the efforts to improve special-education services to comply with the federal court's Felix consent decree, had been named interim schools chief earlier this fall.

She was receiving the same $90,000 salary as Paul LeMahieu, who resigned as superintendent in October. But the board opted yesterday to give her the full $150,000 salary allowed by the Legislature.

"She understands the board and the direction the board wants to go," Knudsen said. "She knows the state's legislative process already and is committed to standards."

Hamamoto is a lifelong educator who has been a teacher and administrator in Hawai'i schools.

She will inherit a department laden with problems: shortages of teachers, bleak hope for additional money from a sometimes combative Legislature and increased pressure to reform the special-education system.

She will also oversee an impending $7.1 million budget cut this year and a $14.4 million budget cut next year that could force the schools to trim services so much, educators warn it will be detrimental to students. Hamamoto already has said the Department of Education may have to consider employee furloughs, program restrictions and deletions, reduction in per-pupil spending and the elimination of basic infrastructure support.

But she said last night she was honored to be chosen for the position, and praised the department and its employees resilience for having made it through such rough times.

"There's a lot we need to do, and this gives the department stability," Hamamoto said, citing the continuing work on the Felix consent decree, the upcoming legislative session and the budget cuts as challenges for the school system.

Hamamoto has repeatedly promised to continue with the standards-based agenda that the Board of Education and LeMahieu had set in motion.

But LeMahieu resigned amid a scandal in October after questions were raised about his relationship with a woman whose company was granted a special-education contract. LeMahieu and the woman have since admitted that their relationship did "cross the line" after the contract was awarded to her company.

Joan Husted, executive director of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association, said Hamamoto's appointment should reassure teachers, parents and the public.

"I think it's a good choice," Husted said. "I think she'll restore some of the confidence in the top-level leadership. I think she's strong enough to overcome some of the naysayers in the department who don't think things can be changed. She has a good commitment to the standards agenda. We were all fearful that we might lose that. She knows the flaws in the system."

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.