Brighter Future

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

(page 1 of 3)

Click here for the full transcript of the two-hour 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.


Petranik: Let’s start with a topic being discussed by the Legislature: Who should be the ultimate authority for Hawaii’s public schools? The three former, living governors advocate a school board appointed by the governor to replace the elected school board. Gov. Lingle suggests no school board, with the governor directly appointing the schools superintendent. Candy?

Suiso: An appointed superintendent and appointed school board would give the schools more accountability. Look at who is accountable now: The Board of Education, legislators, the DOE and our union. If we had an appointed superintendent and appointed board, we would know exactly who to point to.

Photo: David Croxford

Coppa: Appointed board. I have always found members of the elected board spend too much time worrying about the next election. It’s time for a change.

Silberstein: An appointed board is needed to move Hawaii forward on education, or half appointed, half elected, but the board should have an appointed teacher representative, a principal, a student. People who are in the trenches.

Carey: The DOE is a $2 billion (a year) organization, which includes keeping up physical plants, and experienced businesspeople would be very helpful. So I favor an appointed school board because many talented executives with community awareness would accept appointment by the governor, but would not run for office.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority’s board has a lot of prescribed constituencies. That works well when you start but it becomes very hard over time to fill specific constituencies. So I would create constituencies as guidelines, as opposed to prescriptions, so that you could get the best people available when appointments are made.

Joan Husted
Photo: David Croxford

Husted: I favor an elected board mainly because you do not take the vote away from the people. The most efficient form of government is a dictatorship, but you can’t take the vote away, so how can we deal with the issues? I suggest that we suspend the elected board and let the governor appoint an education czar, who gets six years to fix whatever the perceived problems are within the DOE. After six years, recreate the board.

Witt: I am for an appointed board. I believe that our public schools are in crisis and the current elected board is not getting the job done. I do not know if I am ready to propose an appointed board forever, but I would agree with Joan’s proposal that we need some sort of crisis management solution for about six years. David pointed out that this is a $2 billion industry with 250 schools. Any organization that size needs good leadership. I think the people in Hawaii understand that this is an urgent situation that needs an unusual solution.

Husted: We should also pass a constitutional amendment that says the state Legislature must provide lump sum funding for the DOE. (Others agree.) We just had a great example of why we need that. A bill moving legislatively dictates that two additional deputy superintendents have to be employed by the DOE and that makes absolutely no sense. 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.

Silberstein: Mandates take away from instruction. We are being mandated in so many ways that have nothing to do with education. You want to talk about skin care, let the Health Department handle it. Don’t shove everything to the school without support.

Robert Witt
Photo: David Croxford

Petranik: Ruth, you run a school. Do you want a lump sum that you would have more control over?

Silberstein: I don’t mind having more control provided it is not over things that have nothing to do with education. Don’t ask me to handle food services. Our hands are now tied with the budget. For example, I cannot save money this year and carry it over to pay for a teacher I need next year.

Carey: There is a business of running and fixing buildings and budgets. Somebody has got to keep the books, make sure the halls get cleaned and the air conditioners get repaired, but that is not related to instruction and is a separate skill.

Petranik: Do you want that administrator at the school or somewhere else?

Carey: It probably depends on the efficiencies and the size. If you have a fully developed high school and a large campus, it might make sense to have that person onsite. Or if the district is small, put it at the district.

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