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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, October 16, 2004

Republicans eyeing 44th District

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

For the public schools along the Wai'anae Coast, the federal No Child Left Behind law has been something of a sore spot.


Age: 44

Occupation: Grants administrator, Boys & Girls Club of Hawai'i; House 1994-present

One big idea: "I want to build more affordable housing."


Age: 38

Occupation: Payroll clerk, The Queen's Medical Center

One big idea: "I'd like to see the federal Weed & Seed program in more communities state-wide. I think that would be a good umbrella."

No schools made their targets under the law during the 2002-2003 school year, and after a burst of optimism when test scores went up this past school year, it turned out that just three of 11 schools had made their goals.

"It's going to be a challenge to get the kids up to the standards," said Myron Brumaghim, the principal at Nanaikapono Elementary School. "The thing that I would probably look to is getting more resources for schools that are having problems."

Education is seen as an essential building block in state House District 44, where low-income and Native Hawaiian students have had trouble in schools with inexperienced staff and deteriorating facilities. But crime, traffic and the growing number of homeless living along the coast are also among the pressing issues in Nanakuli and Honokai Hale.

State Rep. Michael Kahikina, a Democrat who has represented the district for a decade, is facing a rematch in November against Karen Awana, a Republican payroll clerk at The Queen's Medical Center who came within a few hundred votes of surprising Kahikina in 2002.

The district, which Gov. Linda Lingle won narrowly two years ago, is one of several where Republicans see potential this year as they attempt to weaken Democratic control in the state House of Representatives.

Kahikina is a grants administrator for the Boys & Girls Club of Hawai'i and Awana serves on the Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board. Both candidates live on Hawaiian homestead land and identify strongly with their community.


Ethnicity (how people described themselves in the 2000 U.S. Census)

People of two or more races: 38.7%

Pacific Islander: 24.4%

Filipino: 11.8%

White: 9.5%

Native Hawaiian: 5%

Age (of those 18 and older in the 2000 U.S. Census)

65 and older: 11%

50-64: 20%

40-49: 20%

30-39: 22%

20-29: 21%

18-19: 5%

Residents say education, crime and traffic are ongoing concerns, but many have complained recently about the visibly increasing number of homeless along the coast, estimated at as many as 1,000 people. In August, the city announced a new government-financed homeless complex in Wai'anae that will provide transitional housing and other services, yet people see the need for lasting solutions, such as more substance-abuse treatment and affordable housing.

"I guess it's become much more in-your-face for people. It's more visible than it was in the past," said Jo Jordan, who serves on the neighborhood board.

Kahikina is chairman of the House Human Services and Housing Committee. He said the homeless complex is a "Band-Aid" and believes that more federal money is needed to help the state with low-cost housing. He believes the Bush administration is more concerned with foreign policy, such as the war in Iraq, than in investing in the nation's poor neighborhoods.

"I think now is the time to be taking care of our country," he said.

Kahikina said he is working with pastors and others to ensure that the homeless are treated with respect and compassion. "But the community wants its beaches back," he said.

Awana said she would continue to ask the federal government to add the region to the Weed & Seed program, which has helped communities such as Waipahu corner drug activity and begin the slow process of economic recovery. Earlier this year, the federal government denied Wai'anae's application.

Awana said Lingle's victory in the district was a sign that people want fresh leadership. "That was a reflection of people who want to see change," she said.

As in many Leeward communities, traffic in Nanakuli can sap the quality of life and, in some areas, the hazards are among the most dangerous in the state. More than 80 people have been killed on a stretch of Farrington Highway in the area since 1990 and, despite road and safety improvements, accidents still close the only route into and out of the Wai'anae Coast. Transportation officials have for years talked about the need for an alternative route, and both Kahikina and Awana said they would work for planning and design money.

"We definitely need another way out," Kahikina said.

Awana said the state should experiment more with contraflow lanes or light synchronization to ease traffic while an alternative route is being developed. "There are just too many fatalities," she said.

The deepest divisions between the candidates, though, are over education.

Kahikina voted for an education reform package that will create a new student spending formula based on student need instead of enrollment. It will also require schools to have new school community councils that will work with principals on school budgets and curriculum. Principals are expected to control 70 percent of school budgets.

Kahikina said one of his biggest accomplishments is helping Nanaikapono Elementary, which moved across Farrington Highway to a new campus this year. He said it is difficult for school officials to meet No Child Left Behind standards when they do not have adequate facilities or enough resources. The law requires schools to make annual progress so all students are proficient by 2014.

"You make the environment conducive to learning and you empower the teachers," Kahikina said. "You have to get the resources to the person standing in front of the class."

But Awana, like Lingle and other Republicans, said the new reform law falls short. She said the Legislature should have backed Lingle's proposal to divide the state Department of Education into local school districts with elected school boards. She thinks local school boards would be more effective than the central DOE at ensuring that more state money reaches the school level.

She also supports Lingle's request to lift a cap on new start-up charter schools. Ka Waihona O Ka Na'auao, a charter school that moved into the old Nanaikapono campus this year, was one of the three schools on the Wai'anae Coast to make their goals under No Child Left Behind this past school year. Nanakuli Elementary School and Leihoku Elementary School also made their targets.

"We need to get the money down to the school level," Awana said. "And we need to duplicate the successes that already exist with charter schools."

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.