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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hamamoto decision 'personal'


By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Patricia Hamamoto

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Though former Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto had been frustrated by continuing negotiations over teacher furloughs and deep budget cuts to the school system, the Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi said yesterday he did not believe that influenced her decision to resign.

"I didn't think that played into her decision," Toguchi said. "She had wanted to retire last year, but then we talked about it and she agreed that it was not the right time to go. That was way before furloughs started."

Hamamoto, who had nearly two years left in her most recent four-year contract, has not spoken publicly about her resignation, which was effective Thursday. Sources say she is planning to hold a press conference on Monday.

Toguchi said he believed Hamamoto's decision to resign was based on her long tenure as superintendent 10 years the long hours she worked, and her confidence in the team in place to take over.

"For her, it was really a personal decision. She was very clear that she felt she had assembled a good team, had a lot of good people on board who could carry on," Toguchi said.

Hamamoto's departure comes as the public school system is in the throes of unprecedented budget cuts that led to furloughs of school teachers and the shortest instructional calendar in the country.

Hamamoto submitted her letter of resignation on Monday, the same day Gov. Linda Lingle rejected a tentative agreement between the DOE and the Hawaii State Teachers Association that would have used $35 million from the state's rainy-day emergency fund to reduce the remaining furlough Fridays for the current school year.

Wil Okabe, HSTA president, said Hamamoto had a pivotal role during the last few weeks of negotiations in drafting that tentative agreement.

"After the governor's people walked out of talks a couple of weeks ago, it was Pat who continued to look for options to try to resolve the furlough concerns," Okabe said.

HEAVY CRITICISM

When the new two-year teachers' contract was announced in September, Hamamoto and the teachers' union said that 17 furlough days a year was preferable to teacher layoffs or further cuts to school programs.

Hamamoto then took the brunt of parent criticisms and public outcry over the furloughs.

Then, on Oct. 23, the first furlough Friday, Gov. Linda Lingle, who signed off on the teachers' contract, proposed a constitutional amendment to make the DOE superintendent a Cabinet-level position, under the governor's control.

Lingle, who held the majority of the votes to approve the teachers' contract, said the decision by the DOE and the Hawaii State Teachers Association to schedule furloughs for teachers on classroom instruction days showed the need for accountability in the public school system.

Board of Education member Donna Ikeda said Thursday that she thought Hamamoto was unfairly criticized over the furlough issue. She also said she was surprised by Hamamoto's decision to resign.

"The governor was part of the (furlough) decision. Why should Pat be made the scapegoat?" Ikeda said. "This is the first governor, to my knowledge, who has not included the superintendent in Cabinet meetings. It makes the job 10 times harder."

MATAYOSHI FILLS IN

With Hamamoto's resignation, Deputy Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi becomes acting superintendent. Hamamoto has volunteered to remain a member of the negotiating team until the teacher furlough issue is resolved.

Toguchi said BOE members will discuss a process for finding and selecting a new superintendent. A national search is not required under board policy, Toguchi said.

BOE member Karen Knudsen said Hamamoto leaves at a difficult time  when furloughs have yet to be resolved, as a massive budget shortfall looms, which could lead to public school layoffs, and as a Legislative session is set to get under way, during which the education budget could be further cut.

"I've worked with four superintendents ... so there is always a transition. It can be scary for the field. They get nervous about what's going to happen, if we're going to change direction. But it moves on. I'm not nervous. We don't have time to be nervous," Knudsen said.

Knudsen said the DOE's budget is the primary concern. Even if teacher furloughs were to be resolved, the public education system is facing a $40 million budget shortfall for the current school year, which could potentially result in layoffs or increasing class sizes.

Lingle has not yet spoken publicly about Hamamoto's decision to resign. However, her spokesman, Russell Pang, did issue a statement yesterday.

"We appreciate her 34 years of public service and we wish her well in her future endeavors ," Pang said.