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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 31, 2002

Bill seeks elimination of BOE

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Board of Education members heard some bad news last week.

Their jobs are on the line.

Among dozens of education bills introduced last week in the Legislature were several that would eliminate the state board.

This is a common occurrence at the Capitol each spring. The Board of Education has long been a popular target, but this year something is different about the proposals: Some of them originated in education committees, and members of both parties are signing on to them.

The idea of eliminating the BOE has traditionally been an exclusively Republican issue.

One representative has called it a "shot across the bow."

Members of the Legislature say they are serious about reforming the state's troubled education system. Students' test scores still linger in the national basement, and the cost of improving special-education services to comply with the Felix consent decree has stretched the state's pursestrings. After members of a special investigative committee of the Legislature last year complained that they had run up against roadblocks at the Department of Education, politicians have grown increasingly annoyed with the status quo.

"I think for a number of years everyone in the community has said we need to improve education," said Sen. Norman Sakamoto, D-16th (Moanalua, Salt Lake), chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "The board's sole function is to oversee education. It seems to me that many of the tough issues come to us at the Legislature. The simple issues they rubber-stamp what the DOE wants."

That leaves Sakamoto wondering why the state needs the board.

One bill would give the governor the authority to appoint the board; one would create county school boards; another would create eight small district boards. One bill would create a "superintendent selection commission" in place of the board.

Astonished board members heard the news during a legislative update at their meeting last week.

Meyer Ueoka wanted to know the constitutional implications.

Carol Gabbard wanted board members to lobby at the Capitol.

Donna Ikeda wanted to let the Legislature know the financial implications of eliminating the board and possibly creating several others to take its place.

Herbert Watanabe wanted to know why legislators thought eliminating the board would have an effect in the classroom.

"This board listens to the public," said Karen Knudsen. People don't always agree with the board, but at least they have an elected official to go to, she said.

Eliminating the board or changing its design would require voters to approve a constitutional amendment.

Some legislators acknowledge that voters are not likely to relinquish their right to vote for any office. They're even less likely to hand their authority over to the governor, who is already one of the nation's most powerful state executives.

But if the measures get past the House and the Senate and land on the November ballot, we're in for an interesting campaign season.

Not only will BOE members have to campaign for their seats, they'll have to campaign for their very existence.

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