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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 13, 2006

BOE needs mix of veterans and fresh, new ideas

 •  The Honolulu Advertiser's endorsements

Of all the public offices up for grabs this primary season, the open seats for the Board of Education are too often given short shrift. The lengthy list of candidates makes sifting through the slate difficult.

But these board members will help shape future policies for our state's education system and that makes them worthy of attention.

As the policy-making body of the state's Department of Education, the board charts the course for the state's 257 public schools and helps direct the DOE's $2 billion budget.

In the next year, the board will continue to deal with compliance issues dealing with the No Child Left Behind Act. It also will play a major role in deciding how public funds will be equitably distributed to local schools through the Weighted Student Formula.

Those high-stakes issues require a board that is representative of our entire community and that has the best interest of our students at heart. These members must be fiscally responsible and dedicated advocates for excellence in education. They must be open to new ideas and be wise stewards who are fully capable of making tough, smart decisions on behalf of our children.

The ideal board should have a mix of experienced hands and newcomers who can, in a collegial manner, successfully navigate the politics of both the DOE and the Legislature. With that in mind, the following candidates stand out among the contenders in the contested BOE races of this primary:

In the race for the Windward O'ahu seat, the top two candidates advance to the general election. Incumbent Paul Vierling was appointed by Gov. Linda Lingle in May 2005, and has become chairman of the charter school committee. He deserves a chance to be considered in the final run-off.

Seventeen people are running for three O'ahu at-large seats. In the primary, the top six vote getters will advance to the general. The following candidates deserve support:

Karen Knudsen distinguishes herself as the board's first vice chairwoman. She's concerned about all the reforms and new policies affecting schools in recent years, and she correctly identifies a need to "streamline, focus and prioritize" the issues schools must deal with.

Donna Ikeda, both a former legislator and former board member, believes in legislative fiscal oversight, but says the DOE should be given more autonomy in educational matters. She's right.

Ruth Tschumy is a veteran backed by the Hawai'i State Teachers Association. For the past two years she worked for the Hawai'i Education Policy Center, a nonprofit that monitors the implementation of Act 51. Her experience as an educator helps set her apart.

The strength of the final three at-large candidates is their passion for education and their connection to the schools as concerned community members and parents.

Kim Coco Iwamoto is an attorney and civil rights activist who has advocated before the board over the past year on behalf of youth safety issues in our schools. She's also been a foster parent. Iwamoto rightly believes parents and communities can make a difference in educating Hawai'i's students.

Henry Hoeft is an active parent from Waikele with two girls in Voyager Charter School. Hoeft represents the views of parents who demand accountability in their public schools.

Liam Skilling, a parent with one child in elementary school, is also a law student and a doctoral candidate in education administration at the University of Hawai'i. Skilling was also a former teacher at both Punahou School and McKinley High School. And he has smart ideas about how to improve the system.

These are the standout leaders from the crowded field who can form a representative board that voters can trust. They should advance from the primary to the general election.

Correction: The Advertiser no longer endorses Kris DeRego. See story for a detailed explanation and see our updated list of endorsements.