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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 1, 2004

School board bill unlikely to survive

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Education Writer

A key state senator said yesterday he would not hear Gov. Linda Lingle's bill for local school boards, making it increasingly doubtful the idea will survive this session of the Legislature.

After a four-hour briefing on education reform before the state Senate Education Committee, chairman Norman Sakamoto, D-15th (Waimalu, Airport, Salt Lake), also said he was not inclined to move a bill favored by Democrats. That bill would expand the state Board of Education from 13 to 17 voting members to make it more geographically representative of the state.

Both bills are constitutional amendments that would require two-thirds votes in both houses to be put before voters in November.

The House has voted twice this session against local school boards, and Sakamoto fulfilled a promise to Lingle's supporters to listen to her idea — and other reform issues — at yesterday's briefing.

Lingle has proposed breaking up the Department of Education into seven school districts with locally elected boards, and replacing the BOE with a standards and accountability commission.

"I didn't hear compelling reasons how seven local school boards or seven DOEs would improve student achievement," Sakamoto said later. "At this point, we need to focus on getting dollars to the schools."

Lawmakers could choose to revive any issue before the session ends in May, but if Senate Democrats were to approve the local school boards bill, House Democrats would have to agree to reverse their previous votes.

Also, the House and Senate are expected to vote this week on the Democrats' education reform package, which includes a new student spending formula that bases money for schools on student need, and requires new school councils at every school. Lawmakers will work in conference committee in the next few weeks to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation.

Lawmakers must decide how much control principals should have over school operating money — the House suggested 75 percent; the Lingle administration is pushing for 90 percent — and how to balance their power with new school councils, which would have some control over budget and curriculum.

Recently, Lingle's advisers have grown much more aggressive in describing the 90 percent figure as critical to reform, saying it would change the culture of the DOE.

"We think that would really transform this system dramatically," the governor's education advisor, Randy Roth, said yesterday.

The Lingle administration still hopes the public will pressure lawmakers to put the local school boards question on the ballot.

"All we're asking for is to have the opportunity to let the people decide," Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona said yesterday.

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.