IN THE NEWS: Bill alters terms for BOE members

HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER

Bill alters terms for BOE members

By Nanea Kalani

Members serving on the state Board of Education would have four-year terms that run concurrent with that of the governor appointing them under proposed legislation filed this week.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Breene Harimoto, vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, aims to “truly hold the governor accountable” for appointments to the board overseeing Hawaii’s public education system.

Voters in 2010 approved a state constitutional amendment that did away with an elected school board. The governor appoints members to staggered three-year terms, and they can serve up to three consecutive terms.

The board, by law, is charged with forming statewide educational policy, adopting student performance standards and assessment models, monitoring school success and appointing the superintendent.

“An overwhelming concern has been that it seems contradictory to say, ‘Hold the governor accountable,’ but then the new governor inherits the board and it takes years for their terms to turn over,” said Harimoto (D, Pearl Harbor-Pearl City-Aiea), who served eight years on the previously elected Board of Education.

“The governor was elected on certain platforms, but what if the board he inherits has a different philosophy?”

Senate Bill 126 would terminate current members’ terms on June 30. The bill also would increase appointees from nine to 11 voting members and add prerequisites for prospective members. The Senate Education Committee has scheduled a hearing for Monday on the bill.

Harimoto, who was initially appointed to the BOE in 2002 to fill a vacancy, said he resigned in 2010 because he believed the elected board was dysfunctional.

“I was a huge supporter of the move from an elected to an appointed board. I believed the elected board wasn’t working. I think the appointed board is doing much better, but like everything else, I think it can be fine-tuned,” he said.

The current nine- member board includes three at-large seats (held by Don Horner, Keith Ame­miya and Patricia Halagao) and three Oahu seats (held by Amy Asselbaye, Cheryl Lupenui and Jim Williams). The board also has three neighbor island seats: Hawaii island (held by Brian De Lima), Maui (held by Grant Chun) and Kauai (held by Nancy Budd).

SB 126 proposes four at-large seats and one each for the Department of Education’s seven districts — Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, Hono­lulu, Central Oahu, Leeward Oahu and Windward Oahu.

“One of the biggest complaints I hear is that the board seems not to be connected to the communities; they never see the board members,” Harimoto said. “My attempt is to get them back to being not just a state school board, but a local school board.”

At least two of the at-large members would be required to have business management experience. And at least two board members would have to have public education experience, with one member required to have experience as a school principal.

An education policy professor and expert on the politics of education said replacing an entire school board every four years with brand new members could be problematic.

“Appointed boards usually have staggered terms for their members, which avoid the potential challenge of having an entirely new school board,” said Brown University professor Kenneth Wong, chairman of the education department there. “There is often a learning curve for newly appointed members in terms of exercising their roles and responsibilities. An entirely new board may pose problems for the transition.”

Wong said he recognizes the importance of accountability. He suggests staggering terms so that one-third of the members have two-year terms, one-third have four-year terms and one-third have six-year terms.

“In other words, when a new governor arrives, she or he will be able to appoint two-thirds of the board — thus holding a clear majority for accountability — but the remaining one-third of the board will ease the transition,” Wong said.

Harimoto said he’s also concerned about transition, noting that it took him at least a year to get acquainted with his BOE duties.

“I wrestled with this,” he said. “I’m perfectly open to revisions and modifications. “I intended to get the conversation going and I think it’s a good starting point.”