Public too quiet on education
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer
New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, considering the possibility of a baseball players strike, once said: "The players don't own baseball. The fans don't own baseball. The owners own baseball."
As the possibility of a public teachers' strike looms larger every day, you have to remind yourself who really owns public education in Hawai'i.
The teachers don't own public education. The governor doesn't own public education. The public owns public education.
Yet, to see and hear teachers and the governor dueling in news conferences, newspaper advertisements and television talks like the ones last night, you'd never know it. No one, it seems, really represents the public in the debate over public education.
Let's look in all the usual places and see where the public is hiding:
At the Legislature, our elected representatives sit on the sidelines. They say it's not their battle; the governor is charged with negotiating a settlement and their only role is to pay for it.
Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu is strangely silent, too. I always thought his job was to be the most visible advocate for public education here, but apparently he's caught between a rock and a hard job, afraid to alienate the teachers or lawmakers, both of whom ultimately have the power to scuttle his plans for a better school system.
The governor, the highest elected official in the land, has to balance his constituencies. Sure, he represents teachers, parents and students, but he seems more concerned right now with all the other taxpayers who will have to pay for improvements in public education, including better teacher pay.
Who does that leave? The real public, of course. You and me. The ones who believe that public education is probably the highest good a government can provide.
Yet, we've been sadly silent, too. It's almost as if no one has bothered to ask our opinion, and we don't know who to tell. We probably won't be heard until the day a strike actually begins, and we have to start finding alternative care for our kids.
In the meantime, there's a vacuum being filled by those on the fringes of the subject. In recent days, I've heard from a guy who thinks all public education should end at age 12, another guy who thinks teachers already get paid too much, considering they "only" work "six hours a day" and "nine months a year;" and still another person who thinks teachers all support a new casino in Waikiki to pay for their pension increases.
They are vocal, sincere and intelligent, but hardly the people we want representing the rest of us who have such a stake in the future of education in Hawai'i. It's time to put the public back in public education.
Mike Leidemann's columns appear Thursdays and Saturdays in the Advertiser. He can be reached by phone (525-5460) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).