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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 8, 2010

BOE chair refuses calls for resignation

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Garrett Toguchi

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State Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi last night refused to step down from his leadership post after several board members called for his resignation.

Board member Breene Harimoto led the drive to remove Toguchi as chair. He was supported by members Donna Ikeda, Eileen Clarke, Herb Watanabe and Kelly Maeshiro, who is the nonvoting student representative on the BOE. The board has 13 voting members.

Harimoto accused Toguchi of conducting board businesses without the knowledge of the entire elected board. Harimoto said Toguchi was notified by former school Superintendent Pat Hamamoto on Dec. 28 that she planned to retire at the end of last year, but Toguchi didn't make this public until Dec. 31.

Harimoto also said that contract negotiations with the Hawaii State Teachers Association to end furlough Fridays are being conducted without the knowledge or input from the full board. He accused Toguchi of withholding information on a tentative agreement with the HSTA reached Dec. 23 and said a majority of the board had to find out details of the settlement in the media.

"If we knowingly allow one board member to act unilaterally to circumvent board decisions, what are the legal issues related to those decisions and what are the potential liabilities to board members who support or enable this practice," Harimoto told the board.

He added that the only way public trust can be restored would be for Toguchi to resign. "His stepping down as board chair is necessary for us to move forward with the public's confidence," Harimoto said.

Following the board's afternoon session, members met in executive session before reconvening at 7 p.m. When the session broke, Toguchi returned to the board room as chairman.

"I don't have plans to step down," Toguchi said. "They're entitled to their opinion. Obviously , the other members of the board didn't feel the same way."

Toguchi explained that he withheld information on Hamamoto's resignation because she had tendered her resignation to him twice before last year, once verbally and another in a letter. In both instances, he said, he was able to talk her out of retiring.

"She gave me the letter (last week) and I told her this wasn't a good time to leave. We talked about it and she asked me to give her a few days," Toguchi said. "My hope was that giving her a few days to think about it would help her to come around and stay at least for a few months."

But this time Hamamoto was determined to leave as superintendent and the announcement was made on New Year's Eve. Kathryn Matayoshi, former deputy superintendent, was named acting superintendent.

As far as the furlough talks, Toguchi said the board's common practice is to assign a negotiating team to make decisions on the board's behalf. He said this panel is empowered to make contract decisions on behalf of the full board.

"We followed our process," he said.

Harimoto said he doesn't believe the board can function effectively with Toguchi at the helm. Although he failed in his attempt, Harimoto said he hoped that he got his message across to the board and public.

"I think we made our point," he said.

Toguchi said he believed that the board's work can go on despite the disagreement he has with several members.

"We have to move forward for the sake of improving our educational system and surviving this tough financial situation ," Toguchi said. "The kind of distractions that we had tonight aren't going to help any. Sometimes it can't be avoided. People just don't like the fact of me being chair or the fact of not being involved in certain decisions, which they may not all be privy too. But that's part of the responsibility ."