Abercrombie off target on blame for schools

Neil Abercrombie is fudging both history and constitutional authority in his attempt to stick the Lingle-Aiona administration with the blame for the failure of Act 51, the 2004 law that was supposed to “reinvent” public education in Hawai‘i.

Act 51 sought to weight spending toward students who need it most, give principals more independent authority over their schools, put principals on performance contracts and create school-community councils to guide decision-making.

None of the goals were fully realized, but not for the reasons stated by Abercrombie, who is bringing back some of the ideas from Act 51 as the centerpiece of his education plan in his campaign for governor against James “Duke” Aiona.

Abercrombie said in a statement to the Star-Advertiser, “There is a good reason why many of the best aspects of Act 51 are contained in my plan — decentralized school systems work, and large school districts across the country have been moving in this direction for years.”

Maybe so, but he’s off base in his politicized diagnosis of why so little has happened in the six years since the law passed.

“The reason the Lingle-Aiona administration was unable to implement Act 51,” he said, “had nothing to do with the merits of the act and everything to do with the fact that the Lingle-Aiona administration wanted to pursue a different course of educational reform on its own, like the unsuccessful pursuit of multiple school boards and an audit of the DOE.”

Pure nonsense. Gov. Linda Lingle has absolutely no power to set or implement policies for the Department of Education — and neither would Abercrombie; Act 51 was a creation of the Legislature, and implementing it was entirely the constitutional responsibility of the Board of Education, which as usual, was paralyzed by politics and indecision.

Lingle wasn’t seriously consulted in the passage or implementation of the law, which she called “false reform,” and the Legislature chose not to follow up in any significant way on why the BOE wasn’t fully implementing what it had decreed.

If Abercrombie wants to bring back Act 51, instead of pointing fingers at Lingle and Aiona, he should be telling us what he’d do to get those who really botched its implementation — his fellow Democrats in the Legislature and on the Board of Education — off their duffs.

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16 Comments on “Abercrombie off target on blame for schools”

  1. jayz43 Says:

    Hear, hear!!

  2. Lurch Says:

    The Blame Game: Shirley Shirley-boop-er-lee. Abercrombie took a surprisingly high road during the campaign. Don’t slip into slipshod accusations now. Maybe he just didn’t take his flu shot.

  3. Gargoyle Says:

    Fire the entire BoE Nov 2. Vote yes for appointed School Board.

  4. Papa Bear Says:


  5. WooWoo Says:


  6. Michael Says:


    Why would Aiona suggest after 8 years we need to Audit the Education system? Lingle didn’t want an audit or said it was “Shoddy”. Who do I believe, Aiona? Aiona has a lot to defend, since he served under the Command of lingle. LG.

    I would blame lingle too, since she cannot make decisions that one in her office cannot make alone but needs the public to make the final decision. Aiona agreed with her. So if Aiona wins, Why should I believe that he can make decisions and pick a BOE leader? Just let voters, vote. BOE candidates run for the lead position as if they are campaigning. Let the public know who they are.

    Act 51 has some good points and bad. Up to whoever wins the Governors Office to make it happen or not.

  7. ppcc Says:

    from Michael:
    “Why would Aiona suggest after 8 years we need to Audit the Education system?”

    To start Aiona can reference Marion Higa’s audit of the DOE procurement budget

    Click to access 09-04.pdf

    A Hawaii free press article also has more info on waste, graft and corruption in the DOE

    Couple excerpts from Higas audit of DOE procurement budget. Audit identifies waste of $21 MILLION from just one $160 million DOE project:

    “The inefficiency and wastefulness of outsourcing construction and program management services is best illustrated by the department’s Whole School Classroom Renovation Program. In 2006, the Legislature appropriated…$160 million to the program to complete the renovation of the 96 schools…. The management of department programs and other contractors should have been performed in-house. However, the department contracted out these functions through large-dollar contracts. Allegedly short on time and staff, the Office of School Facilities placed an inordinate amount of responsibility on these program and construction management consultants, including determining the scope of the program and the scope of their own contracts.”

    …resulting contracts contain inherent conflicts of interest, lack competition, and provide incentives to drive up costs. The role of the program management consultant is particularly alarming, since that consultant is tasked with assisting in the procurement process, including evaluating proposals and negotiating the contracts on behalf of the department, while simultaneously competing for those contracts. Consultants are paid large sums of money to monitor and approve other consultants’ work, responsibilities that should be performed by the department and which may lead to waste of taxpayer moneys”….


    Aiona has ample DOCUMENTED JUSTIFICATION to demand a full INDEPENDENT audit of the DOE. Abercrombie is not requesting such an audit so how can he possibly talk about improving DOE education when there is outright waste, graft and corruption in the DOE going on as we speak? Giving the foxes that are guarding the DOE hen house either more money or more independence will do absolutely NOTHING to improve public education for our children.

  8. ppcc Says:


    Conclusion taken from Marion Higa’s February 2009 procurement audit:

    “Department of Education officials push for the passage of the Reinventing Education Act of 2004 was partially motivated by the desire to reduce the bureaucracy involved with capital improvement programs. With the passage of the law, the department quickly inherited an enormous responsibility and an expansive system replete with myriad staff, processes, and procedures. To meet the facility demands of the hundreds of schools statewide, officials at the Office of School Facilities consciously made the decision to carry out their duties with little regard for compliance with procurement procedures. While appearing to be well-intentioned, this “just-get-it-done” approach has created an organizational atmosphere in which non-compliant procurement practices are not only tolerated but condoned in some instances. More importantly, unethical and possibly fraudulent behavior has been allowed to thrive.

    In addition, as our report has made clear, this failure of leadership has resulted in a seriously flawed program and construction management services process in which the department has outsourced its oversight responsibilities. For instance, under this new system, consultants have been allowed to award contracts to other consultants. Even worse, they have been granted this authority without surrendering the right to also compete for the same contracts that they are administering. The result of these and other systemic flaws is that for every dollar spent on construction for the schools, 13 cents is needed to pay for program and construction management services—duties that the department should be carrying out itself.

    With hundreds of millions of dollars in capital improvement projects yet to be awarded, the possibility of continued unethical and possibly of fraudulent behavior is high, and the prospect of inefficiency and waste is a certainty.”

  9. David Shapiro Says:

    I received the following by e-mail from Laurie Au of the Abercrombie campaign:

    You are right when you say the governor has no direct constitutional authority over the school system. Neil understands that. But it’s wrong to suggest that the governor is powerless. For example, here are some things the governor can do:

    * Make the Superintendent a de facto member of the cabinet as in Neil’s platform (certainly not do what Gov. Lingle did, which is never invite the Superintendent to a meeting)

    * Make implementation of the policy an expectation while negotiating with public sector unions

    * Work to prevent legislators from micromanaging school policy and passing legislation that works at contrary purposes to the overall school reform efforts

    * Not publicly berate the stakeholders – DOE, state Legislature, public unions and their members – who have major roles in implementing policy.

    * Not call the state’s policy “fake reform” and try to pursue a contrary agenda while the existing law is in place.

    Neil’s point is that no one is in charge and that power is scattered all over the place, and there’s no shortage of people who can avoid responsibility because of that situation. True, we can make excuses for everyone including the governor, but how’s that working out for the public schools so far?

    Neil has stated repeatedly throughout the furlough Fridays situation and in his education policy that the fundamental problem with the public schools is that no one is in charge—the buck stops nowhere.

    Neil’s solution is also clear. If he’s elected governor, he’ll take responsibility—regardless of whether the appointed school board provision passes or not—because that’s what people should expect from the leader of the state. Since that is Neil’s philosophy and since Gov. Lingle has been the governor, he’s being entirely consistent in laying responsibility for the failure of Act 51 on the governor’s doorstep.

    Neil’s solution is that the governor should take responsibility—not to dictate—but to orchestrate the reform effort. That’s what leaders do. He thinks people should have expected it from the Lingle-Aiona Administration and he is saying you can expect that from him.

  10. WooWoo Says:

    “Neil’s solution is also clear. If he’s elected governor, he’ll take responsibility—regardless of whether the appointed school board provision passes or not—because that’s what people should expect from the leader of the state.”

    Ahhh… the promises of the campaign season. If the provision doesn’t pass and the educational system doesn’t improve, Neil’s going to stand up in in 2014 and say that he doesn’t deserve re-election?

    Who really believes that?

  11. Doug Says:

    Huh. Why doesn’t Laurie Au of the Abercrombie campaign leave comments here herself? David should not have to cut and paste her email. What, she’s too good for slumming in the blog world?

  12. Michael Says:


  13. Michael Says:

    Shows Abercrombie has integrity to admit wrong. Take credit when due. Like the Captain of a Ship with many officers, as the Captain resigns when things go wrong on his Ship regardless of who did what.

    Education is not the main priority, the Economy of Hawaii is. To survive so that one can retire from a job. There is an issue to protect Hawaii from becoming the Mainland. When the State of Hawaii had people working, Education was well paid for. Now many are not working, who is paying State Taxes to run schools? It would be soon that to be a Janitor, one has to have a degree in sanitation. Garbage collectors make more than teachers. Get paid for 8 but only work for 4. Assuming, the faster one works and get the job done, one goes home. unions?

  14. ppcc Says:

    Do you or Abercrombie deny the serious accusations made by Marion Higa regarding the DOE?? Are you refuting Higa’s financial information submitted in her 2009 audit of the DOE procurement budget as inaccurate, a mistake or outright falsified?

    According to Laurie Au, does Abercrombie actually believe that the problems of the DOE are because “no one is in charge and that power is scattered all over the place”? That is a pretty ignorant statement given that anyone who is not in complete denial knows the BOE chair, who is complete alignment with the HSTA, and backed up by 7 BOE members such as Coco Iwamoto, Penebacker, Ahu Isa, Knudsen, etc., controls ALL of the State (ie most Federal money obviously has strings) derived money and how it is spent in the DOE. If the BOE chair controls all of the money then he has has ALL of the power. Surprising Abercrombie who has a PhD cannot figure that out.

    Michael, obviously you feel Hawaii teachers deserve a raise. Are you encouraging, and does Abercrombie concur, that if he becomes governor, Abercrombie will push to raise the general excise tax so that more money can be given for public teacher salaries? Laurie, if you can answer these questions, please don’t hesitate to create a free account so that you can post your response directly in Shapiro’s blog.

  15. Michael Says:

    your comment is still shoddy
    and what I say won’t matter.
    Think what you like, I have reason to
    back up my comment.

  16. Michael Says:

    Why don’t you ask Abercrombie for his answer? If you have doubts on what he said, then vote for Aiona.
    I have no answer for Neil. As far as my answer, I need not justify my 2 cents. You feel the need to know the answer, go google or yahoo the answers you seek. Look under MYCOMMENT.com

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