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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 15, 2010

BOE bill gives voters say

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

Voters may get to decide in November whether Hawai'i's next governor should have the authority to appoint the members of the state Board of Education, a dramatic shift away from nearly five decades of voters electing members to the education policy-setting body.

A legislative conference committee yesterday merged state House and Senate versions of a constitutional amendment bill that would pose the following question to voters: "Shall the Board of Education be changed to a board appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, as provided by law?"

The measure, House Bill 2376, must still go to the floor of both legislative chambers for a final vote. It is expected to pass.

A similar amendment has been posed to voters twice before and failed both times.

Lawmakers must still rectify differences between House and Senate versions of a companion bill that would specify the makeup of the new BOE the number of members, geographic areas of representation, length of term and term limits.

The bill would also outline the role of an advisory council, which would select candidates for the governor to choose from, similar to the current process of selecting the members who sit on the University of Hawai'i's board of regents.

The Legislature's deadline for merging the sister bill to the constitutional question is April 23, said state Rep. Roy Takumi, D-36th (Pearl City, Momilani, Pacific Palisades), chairman of the House Education Committee.

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. But lawmakers were reluctant to support such drastic changes to the structure of public education governance. Instead, the proposed constitutional amendment would allow the newly structured BOE to select the superintendent of schools.

"The public is being asked to give up their right to vote on the Board of Education, on one hand. On the other hand, we did not want to make it that one person in this case the governor gets to select everyone (including the superintendent)," Takumi said. "There's never any perfect way to select our Board of Education members. But we believe this strikes a balance."

BOE Chairman Garrett Toguchi said the proposed amendment is "detrimental to schools," and would take away the citizenry's voice in education policy. He called it an overreaction to the public school furlough mess.

"Instead of representing parents, students, educators, and seeking public input on academic and financial decisions, appointed BOE members would have only one constituent: the governor who selects the member to office and unilaterally controls the educational agenda and budget," Toguchi said in a statement.

"For example, an appointed BOE operating under the current governor would have furloughed students for 30 days a year, nearly twice as many days as students are losing today," he said, referencing Lingle's June 2009 decision to cut the DOE budget by the equivalent of three furlough days a month over a two-year period because she did not have the authority, under state law, to order furloughs of public schools or the university system.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association has also opposed the amendment throughout the legislative session. Yesterday Wil Okabe, union president, in a statement said an appointed board would be taking "control of the public education system away from the people and putting it in the hands of a politician."

Lingle, in a news conference Tuesday, said an appointed school board was "a very good step," but does not go as far as she had hoped. Lingle said she is opposed to an advisory council or what she called, "a little committee" selecting the candidates for the governor to choose from.

Lingle, in response to complaints by lawmakers about the lack of women on the UH board of regents, said the advisory committee has limited the number of women to choose from.