Accountability Governor?

Ben Cayetano shielded the department from budget cuts until now

March, 2002

We should not settle for mediocrity in our public education system, says Gov. Benjamin Cayetano, a Farrington High School graduate. He’s tried to increase accountability through opportunities in professional development. As he said in the State of the State address, that’s good and bad news. About 50 teachers are involved in a two-year process for certification by the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards. Certification will entitle these teachers to a $5,000 salary increase. Then, we will need to find the money to pay them.

“The focus over the past 20 years or so that I’ve been in government has always been chasing the magic bullet, you know, like class size, or smaller schools, or things like that. Those are all incidental to what really needs to be done, and, whether it’s business or life in general, what drives excellence is accountability, and we’re slow in getting there right now,” says Cayetano.

Cayetano’s three children have attended both public and private schools. He is frank about why he pulled son Brandon out of King Intermediate years ago. Brandon came home one day and told his dad he was learning how to wash clothes in a required course – home economics. “I said, ‘I’m taking you out of there and putting you where you’ll get a traditional education. I sent him to Damien (Memorial High School). I learned how to wash clothes by myself. I learned how to sew by myself. I learned how to cook by myself. Why do we waste time teaching those kind of things?’”

To ensure more accountability on all levels, Cayetano would like to see an appointed Board of Education, which would take a constitutional amendment. He also says that principals should be management and should not be in the union, although he acknowledges as a practical matter they won’t be leaving the Hawaii Government Employees Association fold anytime soon.

“Can you imagine if, in the army, all the captains and lieutenants were in the union?” he asks. “What needs to be done is to reach some agreement where the superintendent has better control over moving people around or moving them out, because you got principals who are just deadwood and you can’t move them around.”

What goes hand in hand with accountability is professional development, to raise the bar and motivate. Cayetano says, “Professional development is important to provide the kind of leadership in the school that’s going to make things happen. Right now you’ve got some very, very dedicated teachers, but I just feel that when you have a freer and more competitive atmosphere that people who are doing well now might be doing great.”

Cayetano says he’s kept irate letters from teachers who told him during last year’s strike that they wanted to leave teaching. “Be my guest. Leave,” he says. He mentions he also got a stack of letters from a local high school that he declines to name. He says the grammar and misspellings where so pitiful he made a copy of the stack and sent it to the school, to the principal’s attention. He never got an answer.

Yet, Cayetano agrees that teachers deserve more. “I’m always for paying the teachers. I want to pay them more, even more than we offered, if we could have afforded it. But I want them to be accountable. I want the deadwood out of there, man.”

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Kelli Abe Trifonovitch