Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:26 a.m., Wednesday, November 6, 2002

School board incumbents win 4 of 8 open seats

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

If Hawai‘i residents are dissatisfied with the public school system or the state Board of Education, they didn’t show it at the polls yesterday, as voters returned several incumbents to office.

Four of the eight open seats on the board went to current board members, and just one incumbent failed to win re-election.

Incumbents Karen Knudsen, a BOE member since 1990 and a director at the East-West Center, and Shannon Ajifu, a former principal first elected in 1998, easily secured two of the O‘ahu at-large seats.

The third O‘ahu at-large seat came down to a close battle between eventual winner Randall Yee, an attorney making his first bid for office, and incumbent Keith Sakata, an industrial construction inspector who unsuccessfully sought his third board term. Candidates Kenneth Segawa, a swim coach and kahu at Keali‘iokamalu Church, and Marla Wade, a minister and case manager for Child and Family Services, significantly trailed the other O‘ahu at-large candidates.

On Maui, Mary Cochran, an attorney and former representative for the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association, edged out former board member Kelly King, a part-time public relations representative who served on the BOE from 1994 to 1998.

In the Leeward O‘ahu contest, incumbent Breene Harimoto, a Pearl City Neighborhood Board member who was appointed to the position this summer by Gov. Ben Cayetano, beat Karen James, a business owner and former teacher. The special election for that seat was to fill the remaining two years of the term of Marilyn Harris, who stepped down for health reasons.

In a special election to fill the O‘ahu at-large position vacated when Donna Ikeda left to run for lieutenant governor, Garrett Toguchi, a former board member who was appointed by the governor this summer, won easily over Shannon Wood, editor and publisher of the Ko‘olau News.

In the Central O‘ahu contest, Shirley Robinson, an ‘Aiea Neighborhood Board member and community activist, beat Grace Dixon, a libraries advocate.

In the Windward race, attorney Laura H. Thielen beat former state Rep. Terrance Tom.

The BOE sets policy for the public school system, hires the superintendent and oversees the state library system. Eight of the 13 BOE seats were up for election this year. A 14th student member is included on the board, but has no voting rights.

The new board faces issues including continuing budget problems, aging school facilities, disputes with the state’s charter schools and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which puts new emphasis on testing and performance. The board also inherits a rocky relationship with the Legislature, whose members spent a majority of the 2002 session trying to figure out how to eliminate the board or diminish its authority, and a good portion of their campaigns knocking the education system.

But Knudsen said the decision to keep school board incumbents in office means the public weighed financial limitations and other stresses facing the schools against improvements the board has made in testing and academic standards.

“I think they understand the positions we’re in,” Knudsen said. “We wish we could effect change faster, too. We’re very committed.”

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