Good start for the appointed BOE

Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s appointment of First Hawaiian Bank chairman and CEO Don Horner to the Board of Education is the first glimpse of the gains we could realize from the new constitutional amendment switching from an elected to an appointed school board.

Horner replaces Lei Ahu Isa, who stepped down in advance of the shift that will come as soon as the Legislature passes enabling legislation.

Abercrombie’s first appointment represents dramatic change: the head of one of Hawai‘i’s biggest and most successful companies replacing a bottom-tier politician once described by former Gov. Ben Cayetano as one of the state’s weakest lawmakers.

Extrapolate upgrades of that magnitude to the entire school board and you can see the possibilities for improving our public schools.

Horner hit all the right notes in accepting the appointment, saying the board should focus on setting clear policies and goals for improvement rather than trying to micromanage the superintendent.

His vow to focus more on the “customers” — students and parents — is welcome, and his description of the Department of Education as an institution with long traditions uninterrupted by progress was on the mark.

Horner was involved in the clumsy attempt by the Business Roundtable last year to derail civil unions, and as with the Rev. Marc Alexander, Abercrombie’s choice for homelessness coordinator, Horner will grate on the governor’s supporters whose political world revolves around that one issue.

But he brings to the table some of the state’s best experience on how to make a big organization work, and Abercrombie deserves kudos for valuing proven expertise over ideological purity in those he recruits to help him attack some of our most vexing problems.

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10 Comments on “Good start for the appointed BOE”

  1. Doug Says:

    “But he brings to the table some of the state’s best experience on how to make a big organization work”

    I don’t know Mr. Horner’s history. What, exactly, did he do at FHB to make it work (by implication, “better” than it would have worked without him)?

    Furthermore, on a more fundamental level, doesn’t a CEO simply carry out the wishes of the BOD? Or was Horner also Chairman of the Board?

  2. wlsc Says:

    I’d be more impressed if I found out that his own children were in the public schools.

  3. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Hard to figure how a guy from Horner’s lofty,wealthy heights can relate at a gut level to the public school demographic. But an interesting choice. I wonder if Mr.Horner will be able to handle the challenges which are quite different from those faced by a private sector executive? We’ll need to give him a shot,wait and see.

  4. Kolea Says:

    Don Horner, and Kaneohe Ranch’s, Mitch D’Olier (who preceded Horner as chair of the Business Round Table), have worked as a tag team to help coordinate the views of Hawaii’s corporate elite and then exert their power on a wide range of policies, from restructuring the economy, the educational system, as well as their inept effort to coerce the BRT members to derail the civil unions bill last year.

    The business community certainly deserves a “place at the table” in such discussions, provided they are balanced by people committed to the common good. When Ben Cayetano appointed First Hawaiian executive Jack Hoag to the UH Board of Regents, he simultaneously appointed Ah Quon McElrath, a core organizer of the ILWU during its early days and a tireless advocate for low-income people at the Legislature for decades. Unfortunately, AQ died recently and it is difficult to think who might carry on in her place.

    Abercrombie appears determined to replay his “Nixon to China” gambit over and over in an effort to defy the expectation that he will govern like an “ultra-liberal.” He is at risk of sounding like a “one note samba.” Since he relies upon the wisdom of Ben Cayetano in so many things, maybe the two of them might scratch their brains and start looking for someone to place the role of Ah Quon as a counterweight to the current First Hawaiian representative?

    And Dave, there are undoubtedly civil union advocates who might judge Horner solely on his role in the BRT effort to scuttle civil unions. I don’t think that is too unreasonable. But setting aside the content of the policy and just judging his “leadership” on that issue as “process,” he and D’Olier did not com e out of that episode looking very competent. Here is what you wrote at the time:

    “But the group comes out of this fiasco looking like babbling idiots on civil unions and with its overall credibility greatly tarnished.”

    That was your judgment on the group. But it was not the group which made the decisions, it was specific individuals. From what I heard, it was D’Olier and Don Horner, more than any other BRT leaders, who were responsible for the fiasco. If Horner was a “babbling idiot” on civil unions, maybe it is not unreasonable for all of us to be cautious in welcoming him into helping decide how to restructure our schools?
    We don’t need anymore “idiocy’ (babbling or otherwise) dictating our children’s futures.

  5. Michael Says:

    First Hawaiian Bank is owned by French Bank BNP Paribas. France is very much into Civil Unions.
    If it matters or has any influence on how BOE will be run.
    First Hawaiian Bank was the only Bank, I assume, who offered 10 million dollars as a loan to stop Furlough Fridays.

  6. WooWoo Says:

    Everybody here is entitled to their opinion on Horner’s capabilities… But Who is going to argue that Ahu Isa was better? Step right up.

  7. Craig Smith Says:

    What does he know about education none of his kids went to a public school and he has NO background in any educational field. This is a HORRIBLE pick David.

    Running a bank is so different than setting policy for the DOE.

  8. el guapo Says:

    It won’t work if Board members must all have an educational background. Nothing good will come out of having a bunch of clones, so Horner’s selection is not as important as the rest of the future members. Obviously if they are all members of the business community like he is, that won’t work either. And while running a bank is not like setting policy for the DOE, the bank seems to be doing ok, while the general consensus is that the DOE is not doing well. Why not wait and see all the selections before passing judgement?

  9. Kolea Says:

    People are right to keep in mind that he is a banker and his outlook has undoubtedly been shaped by that experience. But Horner has been involved in educational reform work for a long time. He is one of hte principal people behind the group, Education Matters, which continues the long effort of the Business Round Table to try to reform education according to thier ideas.

    I recommend people trying to understand Horner’s views should look google: “Business Round Table” “Education Matters” Hawaii.

    They have a viewpoint which deserves to be part of the discussion. I only hope his appointment is balanced by that of people who hold other developed ideas, rooted in other life experiences. I hope his selection of Horner does not indicate that he is turning the running of our schools over to the Business Round Table.

    There is an overlap between what the corporations want out of an education system and what most of us want. But they are not going to be identical.

    If, as Abercrombie often says, “our diversity defines us,” I look forward to seeing the appointment of some prominent, thoughtful people who represent working families and professional educators.

  10. Michael Says:

    One goes to College, I would say has an Educational background. How one uses their
    background knowledge is another story.

    Concept of the Round Table is that no one is at the head of the Table. King Arthur and His Knights.
    Old news that Major businesses runs Hawaii.

    CEO Don Horner knows Money Matters.
    He can be an asset to balancing the Budget of Education.


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