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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 7, 2009

DOE authority change could boost efficiency

There's a lot of room for disagreement on some of the more controversial rule changes being proposed by the state Board of Education such as changes to the student disciplinary code.

It's harder to dispute the notion that the Department of Education, often criticized for bureaucratic malaise, ought to become more efficient.

Three of the proposed revisions now undergoing public review would have that effect, by giving the state schools superintendent the authority to initiate changes that would better enable the department to manage expenses.

It sounds like something the person in the top administrative position should be able to do.

The new authority would involve the setting of bus fares and school lunch prices, and the consolidation of public schools.

In all those cases, the final decision would rest with the school board and as that board is elected by and accountable to the taxpayers, that is as it should be.

But the superintendent is in a position to know the realities from the front lines first. If fuel or food prices skyrocket, making current bus fares or lunch plans unsustainable and in need of adjustment, should the DOE have to wait until the next board meeting even to begin setting the wheels in motion? Certainly not.

And in the case of school closures and consolidations, it's better to have the superintendent, who has some distance from individual communities and more objectivity, to begin considering such a move.

The superintendent serves at the pleasure of the BOE, so gratuitous or erratic changes seem an unlikely result no more likely than a chief executive officer proposing ill-founded ideas to a board of directors.

In fact, considering ways of making the DOE operate more like a company, within the constraints of government work, would be a vast improvement over the status quo: a bureaucracy in grave need of an efficiency tune-up.