PUHI — Hawai’i state Board of Education member Maggie Cox remained unflappable as she assessed the situation at a community meeting held at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School cafeteria on Wednesday. The 12-member audience at the start of the meeting was all Department of Education employees, so everyone relaxed into a question and answer session.
Board of Education community meetings are man-through the Reinventing Education Act for Children of Hawaii, more commonly referred to as Act 51. Cox was unfazed by the lack of parent and community participation. She commented that when there are “hot issues” people will turn out like they did at Kihei when the possibility of a new high school was discussed, or in other districts where schools were losing large sums of money with the new Weighted Student Formula.
Cox said most of the board members were shocked at the large budget cuts schools would suffer under the Weighted Student Formula. She feels this year will be critical to putting more thought into how schools can get adequate funding. One way she will be pushing for that is to figure out the minimum staffing for schools.
Because making things easier for people is a major theme for Cox, another hot topic for her this year will be to ease some of the load for schoollevel people. She feels so many things are coming down on the school level. “Maybe we’re pushing things too fast and too many things all at once so our teachers and administrators are really struggling to do everything,” Cox said. “If there is a way in my capacity that I can help with that load, that’s what I would like to do, understanding that the board passes policy and the department is the one that sets the regulations and the guidelines. If there are ways I can help, that is really what I would like to do,” she said.
Cox said she is just trying to give people the opportunity to address concerns with her. Instead of the required two meetings per year, she is scheduling three — one in each of Kauai’s three complexes to make it easier for people to attend.
Making it easier for people to be heard may well be Cox’s mission. She is one of two members on the current board with a background in Hawai’i’s Department of Education. With this experience, especially her recent experience (she retired as a principal in 2003), she feels she can be a voice for school-level people and provide the expertise in school operations. Board members have told her that her insights have been helpful, she said.
The Board is a diverse group. Cox feels the diversity is beneficial because each member brings expertise that helps the board to understand issues more fully. Lawyers help with understanding legal ramifications. Former politicians help with understanding legislative processes. Business people shed light on their area. Cox said decisions don’t always go her way, but once the vote is taken, she supports the board decisions.
Cox admitted that her first year was a learning experience. She had to “feel” her way around. For one thing, she had no idea about the number of meetings she needed to attend. Cox said it is difficult for members with full-time jobs to attend all the meetings. Since she is retired, she feels obligated to attend most, if not all of the meetings. This means much of her time is spent sitting in airports rather than visiting schools. Because Cox represents the board in negotiations with the teacher’s union, she will be spending five days a week on O’ahu when negotiations get “hot and heavy.” Cox has the unique position of having been on both sides of negotiations, having served on the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) negotiation team as a principal.
Cox says she refuses to be a “rubber stamp.” She tries to be tactful, but said she may not be at times. She has found people do better when they are “up and up,” so if she has something to say that will affect the school-level, she will say it. She also feels that she doesn’t have to say something on every topic.