Voters may decide on reshaping BOE
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Two bills that advanced in the state House yesterday would let voters decide if the state Board of Education should be appointed by the governor.
The bills, passed out of the House Committee on Education, would give voters the opportunity to decide in November whether the state constitution should be amended to allow the governor to appoint a nine-member BOE from a pool of candidates selected by an advisory council. Those appointments would need to be approved by the state Senate.
Currently, board members are elected by the public.
"In this approach, it still makes the governor accountable for education, because the governor would appoint all the members of the school board just like the (University of Hawai'i) Board of Regents," said Rep. Roy Takumi, D-36th (Pearl City, Momilani, Pacific Palisades).
The proposed changes to the BOE were prompted in part by frustration over the inability of the governor, BOE, Department of Education and teachers union to end furlough Fridays. Public schools have been closed on nine Fridays this school year and will close another eight Fridays, including this week and next, if no action is taken. The furloughs were ordered to help balance the state budget, but have resulted in Hawai'i having just 163 school days a year — the lowest number in the country.
BOE Chairman Garrett Toguchi said he opposes the bills and is concerned that an appointed board would deprive the public of a voice in education policy. He also said he was concerned that a BOE appointed by the governor might become a partisan body, beholden to the governor's political leanings.
"The concern is about the quality of education, but there is no evidence that changing the governance structure results in improving the quality of education," Toguchi said. "The biggest concern I would have as an individual voter is that I would have no say in the selection of the school board."
Funding for the DOE, the state's largest department, is allocated by the governor and the state Legislature but the DOE is governed by the elected state Board of Education. The state constitution gives the school board the power to hire and fire the state schools superintendent and set educational policy.
Takumi said the bills were a work in progress. Lawmakers are still deciding whether each seat on the BOE should represent a specific island or constituency, or whether to include a seat for a voting student member, he said.
Gov. Linda Lingle had requested a constitutional amendment to allow the governor to appoint the superintendent of schools and abolish the state Board of Education.
Takumi said there are no plans for the state House Committee on Education to hold hearings on Lingle's request. He said the state Senate could still do so.
"I think some of us felt abolishing the board and making the superintendent appointed by the governor really centralizes the policy making and governance of the school system. Essentially, it becomes a one-person school board," Takumi said.
Under House Bill 2376 and House Bill 2377, the appointed school board would be made up of members with staggered terms, and they would appoint the superintendent of schools, Takumi said.
Linda Smith, the governor's senior policy adviser, submitted written testimony urging the committee to adopt the governor's versions.
"These changes will make the governor directly accountable for the condition of public education within the state, as the governor will be held accountable for his or her selection of the superintendent, and the subsequent education performance under that superintendent," Smith wrote.
Rep. K. Mark Takai, D-34th (Newtown, Waiau, Pearl City), proposed including language that would allow for a student member with full rights and privileges . He also cautioned the committee on moving a bill that created a BOE without regional seats.
"If we're going to change the BOE, we are going to have to do it right," Takai said. "There might be some significant concerns from our Neighbor Island colleagues — legitimate concerns."
Currently, the BOE has 13 voting seats with three representing a Neighbor Island and the rest representing communities on O'ahu. The BOE also has one nonvoting seat.