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Brighter Future - Extended Version

Six local leaders offer money-saving ideas and better teaching strategies for schools

(page 1 of 6)

Click here for an abridged version of this discussion

Participants, in the order they begin speaking:

Steve Petranik: Moderator and editor of Hawaii Business.

Candy Suiso: Teacher at Waianae High School and program director of Searider Productions.

Bruce Coppa: COO of Communications Pacific and chairman of the education committee for the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii.

Ruth Silberstein: Principal of Palolo Elementary School and Hawaii’s 2008 National Distinguished Principal.

David Carey: President and CEO of Outrigger Enterprises Group and a member of the executive committee of the Hawaii Business Roundtable.

Joan Husted: Retired teacher and retired executive director of Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Robert Witt: Executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and a collaborator with public education in Hawaii.

This full transcript of the discussion was edited to add clarity and to delete duplication.

Petranik: Thank you for coming. I’d like to start with a topic being discussed by the Legislature now: Who should be the ultimate authority for our public schools? One proposal would reflect what the three former, living Hawaii governors have advocated, a school board appointed by the governor to replace the elected school board. Gov. Lingle has proposed something similar: no school board, with the governor directly appointing the schools superintendent. Candy?

Suiso: I would like to explore the possibility of an appointed superintendent and ultimately an appointed school board. It would give the schools more accountability. Look at who is accountable now: We have the Board of Education, we have our legislators, we have the Department of Education and our union. If we had an appointed superintendent and appointed board, we would know exactly who to point to.

Coppa: Appointed board. That is my feeling, though we haven’t done a poll of the Chamber’s members. In my years of dealing with the Department of Education through the board, whether it was about the Student Weighted Formula or just having to present anything there, I always found that the members of the elected board spend too much time worrying about the next election. An appointed board gives us more of an opportunity to better focus on education, and it’s time for a change.

Petranik: Are the appointed UH regents a good model?

Coppa: I think that is a good model to start with and we can tweak it as we go. I do not think we should spend a lot of time getting down to the nitty-gritty. Let’s move on it and adjust it as we go. It’s time; it’s been a long time.

Silberstein: An appointed board is needed to move Hawaii forward on education, but there are two ways of looking at it. It could be half appointed, half elected, or it could be totally appointed, but in the process of appointing a board, there should be another subgroup that would nominate from the field of education, so that the board can really be in consultation with the governor and the superintendent.

Petranik: Should some constituencies be guaranteed, like a spot for the Neighbor Islands or someone who represents the teachers?

Silberstein: Yes, the board should have a teacher representative, a principal representative, a student representative, and if you want to go elected then the community and business can be in the elected side, but the appointed side should be heavy with educators. I believe that with appointed members, you cannot have puppets, because that would ruin the movement. Again, it’s going to create power struggles. So, we really need to zero in on individuals who will move and who are in the trenches.

Carey: There are lots of academic folks here, so let me share a business perspective: The Department of Education today is essentially a $2 billion (a year) organization, and a lot of what it does is run the business of the schools, which means keeping up physical plants and the like. The elected process tends to cause business people not to participate. So I am an advocate for an appointed school board because there are a range of folks with lots of executive talent and lots of community awareness who would accept an appointment if asked by the governor or senior leadership, but who would not run for office because of all the attendant issues that go with that. So I am an advocate for an appointed board. I also could see some appointed and some elected, but that is a complex process.

Probably the reality of the community is that a pure appointed board would be a harder sell because of all the constituencies, but some sort of intervening process makes sense and some of the concerns just described could be answered. Having watched the Hawaii Tourism Authority over the last several years, where there are a lot of prescribed constituencies, it works really well when you start and it becomes very hard to find candidates over time that specifically fill constituencies that were designed in the beginning. So I would be a little more flexible about defining constituencies and leave them as guidelines as opposed to prescriptions so that you could get the better people, even if there was not a clean fit at the time those appointments were made or when vacancies occurred.

Petranik: Is it the official position of the Business Roundtable to have an appointed board?

Carey: The Business Roundtable has been doing that and I think just about to come out is a resident survey that demonstrates that a fairly heavy majority of residents of Hawaii favor an appointed board.

Husted: I have an entirely different point of view. I have always favored an elected school board primarily because you do not take the vote away from the people. The most efficient form of government obviously is a dictatorship, but you can’t take the vote away, so the question becomes how can we deal with some of the issues that we are confronting.

I floated a proposal out at the Amioka Lecture a few weeks ago, though it would take legislation and probably a constitutional amendment: Suspend the elected board of education for six years, three biennials, and let the governor appoint an education czar and give that education czar six years to fix whatever the perceived problems are within the Department of Education. One of the problems with talking about the board is you are talking about form, you are not talking about what you want your school district to do, and form should not precede function. We don't even agree in this state what our school system ought to be, whether it should it be all college bound, should it have some vocational, etc. Then after six years, reapportion the board to a 25-member board of education, which could be one per senatorial district, so everybody would know just as they do now who they are voting for their Senate. If we say 25 members is too large, we say the state Senate is too large, too. Then move forward from that particular point. There is a very good article in Phi Delta Kappa’s journal this month (http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/index.htm) on appointed vs. elected school boards and it pretty much says what the state of Maryland found out is that it really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference because you’ve got to talk about the function of the system, not just the governance of the system and that’s lacking in the debate. We talk about the board but we hear businesses saying our kids are not coming prepared, we hear unions saying they can’t do math, we have high school teachers saying, “Wow, they are coming up and can't read!” and we are focusing our whole attention on whether it should be an elected or appointed school board.

If we went to an appointed board, I disagree with Ruth. I think it’s the people’s board, not an educator’s board. It raises some really serious conflicts of interest because under the state law, the Board of Education is the employer, so it would be a little difficult for teachers to sit on the Board of Education that negotiates for them or school administrators. I think it ought to be a citizen’s board because the citizens ought to be telling us what it is they

Witt: Well, I am intrigued by Joan’s proposal. Let me back up and say that I am for an appointed board. I believe that our public schools are in crisis. The stakes are very high for the state of Hawaii and for a whole generation of children with their lives ahead of them. If we do the right thing, we can invite them into a promising future, but, right now, my hypothesis would be that the current elected board is not getting the job done. In the private schools, you would simply say that the governance is not effective. Assuming that the schools are in crisis, I do not know if I am ready to propose an appointed board or elected board forever, but I would agree with Joan's proposal that that we need some sort of crisis management solution for a short period of time. Six years sound fairly good.

I think the appointed board will allow us to choose highly competent proven leaders who have a good grip on public policy. We need a turnaround board who can get our schools headed in a different direction. We know that public education in Hawaii can work because we have good examples like Searider Productions, but we need to have that everywhere. So in summary, I think the stakes are too high to continue as we are. I think we need to have an appointed board maybe for a period of time and maybe to continue if the results are good. I think that a selection panel is a good idea because we need to vet a lot of good candidates to come up with people who really know how to lead and who can generate new ideas. I like the notion of representation if we could be sure that the people selected to represent various constituencies or geographical areas are highly competent, effective, proven leaders. I think those leaders should be chosen from among groups that have dealt with crisis, such as economic crisis.

Petranik: But if you have a board appointed by a committee of experts wouldn’t you recreate the same problem of divided accountability, with this appointed board having part of the authority and the governor having part of the authority. Would it make more sense to give all the control to the governor, who is elected by a statewide vote, and the governor directly appoints the school board?

Witt: I do not think that in this state we would ever agree to allowing the governor to appoint the board directly. I think it removes the power from the people just a little bit too far. The Board of Regents model seems to be working and I would agree with Bruce that something like that is worth a try.

Let me go back to Joan’s point. Joan and I are from the Midwest where school districts are typically small and we are used to elected school boards where the stakes were never as high as they are here. We are used to a school district with maybe two or three high schools, half a dozen middle schools, and 15 elementary schools. We are talking about 15,000 kids and a budget of about $30 million or $40 million. David pointed out that this is a $2 billion industry with 250 schools. Any business organization of that size needs good management, good leadership and good governance. We should try a different model and I think the people in Hawaii understand that this is an urgent situation that needs an unusual solution. I don’t think they are going to worry about giving away too much at this point. There is too much being lost everyday.

Husted: One of the things I added into my proposal, which caused Rep. Roy Takumi (chair of the state House Education Committee) to choke, was we would also pass the constitutional amendment that said that state Legislature could not do anything other than lump sum funding for the Department of Education.

Witt: I’m all for that.

Husted: We just had a great example of it. We have a bill moving legislatively that restructures the Department of Education, dictates that two additional deputy superintendents have to be employed and that makes absolutely no sense. That line of accountability with the governor and an appointed board seems to trip over 76 people in the state Capitol who all have great ideas on how they want the school system to run.

The Legislature mandated a skin-care program that required that all schools make sure that kids did not get skin cancer and required the schools to write a report once a year on what they are doing to achieve this. To me that is the height of micromanaging and unless you can get those legislators out of the game, nobody is going to succeed. I do not care if it is an elected school board, an appointed school board, or whoever it is, as long as people can intervene in the system from outside the system, it is going to be very difficult to solve anything.

Silberstein: And that takes away from instruction. We are being mandated in so many things that have nothing to do with the education of children and those plates need to be cleaned off. You want to talk about skin care, let the Health Department handle it. Do not shove everything to the school without support.

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