Lingle continues full-court press for decentralization of schools

PO‘IPU — It is “simply irresponsible” to keep the state’s current public-education system the way it is now, “knowing that it’s failed and failing,” said Gov. Linda Lingle.

Lingle, former mayor of Maui County and a fervent believer in “home rule” for the counties, has again begun a push for establishment of local school boards with funding and authority to ensure local decision-making.

“I’m just not willing to stand by and watch this continue,” said Lingle, adding that Hawai‘i again ranks 50th among the states in overall scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

Addressing around 90 members and guests of the Rotary Club of Po‘ipu Beach at the Hyatt Regency Kaua‘i Resort & Spa here yesterday morning, Lingle said children and parents aren’t the reasons public schools in Hawai‘i are failing.

“It’s the management system,” she said, adding that the O‘ahu central office of the state Department of Education houses 7,000 staff members, mostly former classroom teachers who moved into higher-paying administrative and resource positions.

And what is the major problem with the centralized system? “The bottom line is they don’t have any confidence in the public,” especially those on the Neighbor Islands, she said.

“There’s nothing wrong with the kids of Hawai‘i,” she said, and the teachers are committed, she added. Nowhere else does she know of where public employees (teachers) spend their own money to buy basic classroom necessities.

“We don’t hire a fireman and make them buy their own hoses.”

She’s tired of hearing “every excuse in the book” as reasons Hawai‘i’s public schools are failing, she added.

“We can’t miss this historic chance to make a real change,” said Lingle, again saying she’ll push for a proposal to amend the state constitution to decentralize DOE decision-making, and another to establish local school boards.

In the most recent telephone surveys, Kauaians are most in favor of local school boards, with 73 percent in favor, she said. On O‘ahu, the figure dips to around 65 percent, but is higher on Maui and the Big Island (70 or 71 percent), she said.

Lingle rushed back to O‘ahu yesterday afternoon to meet with a newly formed citizens committee, Citizens to Achieve Reform in Education (CARE), along with leaders of major school districts which have decentralized with success.

Lingle’s plan is to put the local-school-boards question on the 2004 general election ballot, along with another question about enabling legislation, she said.

The DOE spends more money per pupil than any private school in the state, she continued. “The number will astonish you,” she promised.

Among her initiatives is to get a firm cost, per-pupil, of public education in Hawai‘i, and use that figure multiplied by student population to give base funding to each school under her decentralization plan.

Using something called a “weighted-student formula,” schools would get more funds per student for their special-needs students.

“Our effort to bring funding down to the school level is critical,” she said.

Her final rationale for establishing local school boards is basic representation. Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau residents are represented now on the statewide Board of Education by a single person, Sherwood Hara. The way BOE elections are conducted, all Neighbor Island voters cast ballots for all Neighbor Island BOE candidates, so Hara was elected as much by voters on other islands as by Kaua‘i voters, she reasoned.

A local school board will mean several board members will live and work on Kaua‘i, and will be “answerable to you, accountable to you,” she said.

Associate Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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