House shelves school overhaul
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
The three major planks of Gov. Linda Lingle's plan to overhaul the public school system likely won't be approved by the state House this session.
Two House committees voted yesterday to shelve a plan to take school principals out of their union, after hearing opposing testimony from principals and union officials.
The House Labor and Education committees also bounced a bill that would allow charter schools to hire everyone from teachers to maintenance staff from non-union ranks.
Meanwhile, House Education Chairman Roy Takumi confirmed that his deferral of Lingle's bill to ask voters to consider establishing seven local school boards probably means it is finished for the session.
But the three proposals are not completely dead. They could conceivably be resurrected in the House, either at the request of a third of the 51 members or through language inserted into other bills.
Randy Roth, Lingle's senior policy adviser, acknowledged that the reception to the Lingle education package had been chilly.
"I would have to say that the actions thus far of the House committees has been disappointing," he said. "These actions give the impression that they think the public school system is working just fine, that there isn't a need for change."
House Labor Chairman Marcus Oshiro, D-39th (Wahiawa), said the bill taking principals out of the unions and taking away their collective bargaining rights raised constitutional questions.
"Any public employee has a right by the Constitution to organize and be represented in collective bargaining," Oshiro said.
He said the administration also had failed to demonstrate a need for Bill 1085.
According to proponents, the bill would make principals more accountable to students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders.
But several principals said the bill does not solve problems and that the system already struggles to attract principals because of the position's growing list of responsibilities coupled with increasingly onerous regulations.
The committees also bottled up Bill 1090, which would clear the way for charter schools to hire employees who are not part of collective bargaining.
Administration officials argued that the measure would give charter school boards the flexibility needed in hiring to find people who best fit their respective institutions.
But labor leaders testified there had been no complaints about union employees at charter schools and that passing the bill would create a second tier of instructors. Randy Perreira, deputy executive of the Hawai'i Government Employees Association, described it as an attempt at union busting.
Oshiro said the bill also would give nonunion members the same retirement and health benefits arrived at through collective bargaining. "There's a conflict here, because at once you'd be saying you don't want to be in a a collective bargaining unit, but at the same time you want all the privileges," he said.
Meanwhile, Labor Chairman Roy Takumi, D-36th (Pearl City, Palisades), said yesterday he did not anticipate that the bill asking voters if they want elected local school boards would return this session without a surge of public support.
Takumi said House Bill 1082 was among nearly a dozen governance bills deferred at the Jan. 31 meeting because his committee could not agree on a preferred measure. He said he had recommended that committee members take the matter back to constituents and report back with a preference next session.
Takumi said there was no haste in selecting a preferred bill, since most, including Lingle's Bill 1082, would need to be placed on the ballot in the next regular election, in 2004.
"If I hear clearly that one approach rises to the top, and there's compelling evidence, both empirical and objective ... I'd reconsider," he said.
Roth, calling himself an "incorrigible optimist," said he did not think the bills were dead for the session.
"Most of the testimony so far has come from union officials and members of the unions," Roth said. The administration is banking on the fact that House lawmakers will reconsider after hearing from constituents who support the governor's package.
"These decisions should be made in the best interest of the kids in mind, rather than any special interest who might have more of a showing at any particular hearing," Roth said.
Not moving the bills gives the impression that lawmakers don't think there's anything wrong with the public school system, Roth said. "If they don't pass these bills, we will be stuck with the status quo from here to eternity."
Oshiro said the education package bills were given fair hearings and that there was ample opportunity for the public to testify or voice their concerns. "I didn't hear the public outcry," he said.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 525-8070.