Posted tagged ‘education’

Govern your mouth, Mr. Governor

June 9, 2011

Geez, we we’re just talking about Gov. Neil Abercrombie blathering semi-coherently about homelessness and now he’s at it again — this time with a barely articulate rant against the state paying $4 million to the NFL’s wealthy owners and players to bring the Pro Bowl here.

Among his statements reported by the Star-Advertiser:

• “This happens to be an easy target because it is so stupid. You can’t do things like give $4 million to a $9 billion football industry and not give money to children.”

• “Right now you have this spectacle of these multimillionaires and billionaires arguing about how they are going to divide it all up and they come and ask us to bribe them with $4 million to … scrimmage out here in paradise.”

• “This is a values question. I am not really that concerned with what multimillionaires or billionaires or whatever they are, are able to — what do they do with all that? I mean, how many sandwiches can you eat?”

The governor’s unexpected tizzy fit totally distracted attention from what he called his press conference to promote — his early childhood education initiative.

And it reflected an immature prejudice that anybody who has money is inherently suspect (unless, of course, they’re giving their money to his campaign).

The Pro Bowl seemed an unlikely target of such over-the-top ire. It’s a quality event and local people enjoy getting to see their favorite football stars up close as much as the tourists do.

It seems to have a decent return on investment as far as such promotions go. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, this year’s Pro Bowl brought in $28.15 million in unique visitor spending and generated $3.07 million in state taxes, not to mention the promotional value of putting Hawai‘i on national TV in the middle of the mainland winter.

It’s disingenuous and simplistic to suggest that booting the Pro Bowl would result in $4 million more going to education.

Which isn’t to say there’s no room for discussion about whether the Pro Bowl is a good investment for Hawai‘i.

But you don’t change policy by wildly shooting off your mouth; you do it by seeing what your constituents think and having an adult discussion with the various stakeholders who have devoted much effort to bringing the Pro Bowl here in the sincere belief that it’s good for business and good for Hawai‘i.

It’s difficult to tell sometimes whether Abercrombie is reprising the loudmouthed campus rabble-rouser he once was or channeling Frank Fasi without the charm, but either way it isn’t playing.

He won’t be taken seriously as governor of the state until he learns to govern his mouth.


DARE to prioritize public spending

April 4, 2011

I was sad to read that the Honolulu Police Department is drastically cutting back its popular 25-year-old DARE program — Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

One of my grandsons recently had a visit at his elementary school from DARE officers, and the anti-drug message clearly made a strong impression on him.

But listening to Chief Louis Kealoha explain the move, it made obvious good sense in this challenging fiscal environment to trim DARE back from the 120 schools it currently covers to about 40 schools that have the highest concentrations of at-risk students.

When budgets are tight, the chief said, core responsibilities have to be the priority — in the case of police, law enforcement and public safety. DARE doesn’t fall under the core; cutting funding there helps the department to maintain patrols in O‘ahu neighborhoods.

It’s exactly the right way to manage a shrinking budget, and it doesn’t happen often enough in public agencies, where there’s a constituency ready to fight for every nickel in state and county budgets.

Administrators can work diligently to cut at the edges while preserving the core, only to be thwarted by advocates for the programs being cut who are able to use political pressure to fend off change.

This has been especially prevalent in the Department of Education, where administrators attempting to make necessary cuts and consolidations have had to gird for drawn-out battles before the Board of Education that they’ve often ended up losing.

Everybody wants the DOE to set priorities, be more efficient and eliminate duplication — until it’s their school or program being cut.

With the new appointed BOE coming in this month, hopefully the decision-making process will be streamlined, less drama-ridden and sharply focused on serving the core responsibilities first.

New BOE represents hope for public schools

March 30, 2011

You never know how things will play out, but the initial impression here is that Gov. Neil Abercrombie did an thoughtful job of picking his first appointed Board of Education.

They’re yet to be vetted by the state Senate, but the nine members seem to represent a diverse pool of talent without being a “Noah’s Ark” of special interests who would end up working at cross purposes. All seem to have solid professional credentials relevant to some aspect of setting policy for our public schools.

The governor was wise not to include any of the members of the current elected BOE after they were so soundly repudiated by voters who opted overwhelmingly to switch to an appointed board.

It was also a good move by Abercrombie to engineer an agreement with the new board that Kathryn Matayoshi will be retained as superintendent.

It raised eyebrows when the current board hired her after a search that was less than robust, but she’s passed her battle testing by coming up with a credible plan to improve school performance and winning a $75 million federal Race to the Top grant to help implement it.

Nothing is guaranteed, but the change to a less political and more professional board has the potential to bring a leap forward for our schools, and Abercrombie appears to have done the right things to get it off to a good start.

For those who haven’t seen the news, here’s the board:

•Don Horner (chairman), chief executive officer and chairman of First Hawaiian Bank

•Wesley Lo, chief executive officer at Maui Memorial Medical Center

•Brian DeLima, attorney and former Hawaii County Council member

•Nancy Budd, attorney and a member of the Kauai Planning and Action Alliance Public Education Action Team

•Jim Williams, retired administrator and CEO of the Hawaii Employer-Union Benefits Trust Fund;

•Charlene Cuaresma, associate director of the Graduate Professional Access Program at UH-Manoa

•Cheryl Kauhane Lupenui, chief executive offer of the YWCA on Oahu

•Keith Amemiya, executive administrator and secretary of the Board of Regents

•Kim Gennaula, philanthropy director at Kapiolani Health Foundation

Good start for the appointed BOE

February 10, 2011

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.

Tweet your views on Board of Education; ‘Olelo dispute resolved?

January 7, 2011

Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda is holding a Twitter town hall from 11:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m. today on the constitutional amendment recently passed by voters to change the state Board of Education from elected to appointed.

The Legislature must enact enabling legislation before the switch can be made, and there are conflicting views on how the appointments should be done.

The intent of the amendment was to hold the governor more accountable for education and many, including Gov. Neil Abercrombie, believe he should be able to appoint whomever he wishes, subject to Senate confirmation.

But some lawmakers have proposed to effectively take the appointments away from the governor — and his accountability — by limiting his choices to as few as two candidates provided by a screening committee.

To participate at, direct questions and comments to @jilltokuda and include the hashtag #askjill in messages. You can keep up with the discussion in real time or catch up with it afterward by following #askjill.

You need a Twitter account to post questions and comments, but not to follow.


In a bit of old business, I’m told that Senate leaders have decided to preserve an  ‘Olelo studio on the fourth floor of the Capitol that legislators use to film communications with their constituents.

House Republicans objected after being told the space would be converted to a hearing room for the Judiciary and Labor Committee.

It seemed resolvable, and good for them if it’s been settled to everybody’s satisfaction.

A passion for history

January 5, 2011

I usually kick myself when I get distracted and blow half a morning dinking around the Internet, but sometimes it’s entirely worth it.

That was the case when I got lost in Mary Vorsino’s captivating piece in the Sunday Star-Advertiser about local teachers Amy Burvall and Herb Mahelona and the history lessons they post on YouTube set to popular music.

I started with their latest production that Vorsino linked to, “The French Revolution” (above) set to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” and as a history major in college, I couldn’t stop looking at one after another.

There was the story of Cleopatra based on “Fergielicious,” “Beowulf” to the tune of “99 Luftballons,” Charlemagne to Blondie’s “Call Me,” “The Canterbury Tales” to “California Dreamin’ ” and Pompeii to Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang.”

I never had much use for Justin Timberlake until I saw the lesson on William the Conqueror set to his “Sexyback.”

This isn’t down-and-dirty dubbing, but elaborate video productions that take months to finish. Burvall, a history teacher at Le Jardin Academy, does most of the writing and performing while Mahelona, the technology curriculum coordinator at St. Andrew’s Priory, handles the production. Their YouTube handle is “historyteachers.”

There are 49 videos so far (see a directory here), and their popularity as teaching tools with students and fellow teachers alike is starting to get national attention.

I’m always heartened to see people putting so much effort into something so good just for the love of it. How much more of that could we use in the schools and elsewhere in our society?

Abercrombie serves up waffles on BOE

November 29, 2010

Neil Abercrombie campaigned for governor as a straight shooter who would always let us know where he stands, but as governor-elect he’s been more of a moving target on the matter of how the new appointed Board of Education will be constituted.

Voters said by a solid margin that they want the governor to appoint the BOE and be held accountable for the results. The question on the ballot couldn’t have been more clear:

“Shall the Board of Education be changed to a board appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, as provided by law?”

Now some legislators and interest groups that feed off of public education seem intent on thwarting the will of voters by limiting the governor’s choices to as few as two candidates put forth by a screening committee mostly controlled by interest groups and the Legislature. It would provide no more accountability than the current system.

Abercrombie has been all over the map. During the campaign, he avoided a straight answer on whether he supported switching from an elected to an appointed school board, a change opposed by the teachers’ union that gave him a key endorsement.

He finally said he voted for the constitutional amendment, but suggested he had reservations.

On the question of how the school board would be appointed, he initially indicated that he would work with what the Legislature gave him. Then, in a meeting with senators, he was reported to have expressed a preference for appointing directly without being restricted by a selection committee.

Now, an excellent analysis by Dave Koga in yesterday’s Star-Advertiser reports that he’s waffling again:

A three-point memo from his staff says Abercrombie wants to hear different views on the process, will work with legislators to pass enabling legislation and wants the matter “resolved quickly and in a way that best reflects the voters’ decision and serves the public interest.”

I don’t begrudge Abercrombie a shot at working things out collegially and certainly don’t expect him to get in a public fight with the Legislature before he’s even sworn in.

But I do expect him to be more up front on where he stands, and in the end to stand up for the accountability on education that voters unmistakably said they wanted.

Honor voter intent on the Board of Education

November 18, 2010

I’m glad Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie told Democratic senators that he wants to directly appoint members to the Board of Education, subject to Senate confirmation, rather than be narrowly limited to candidates given him by an advisory council.

Legislators have said they plan to reintroduce a bill vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle creating a seven-member advisory panel that could provide the governor as few as two choices per BOE seat.

The majority of the  panel would be named by the P-20 Council, an unofficial group made up of the Department of Education, the University of Hawaii and various community and business organizations with interests in education.

Abercrombie had previously said that he’d work with whatever the Legislature gave him.

The constitutional amendment passed by a large majority of voters said: “Shall the Board of Education be changed to a board appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, as provided by law?”

The clear intent was to allow the governor to pick the most qualified people available to govern our schools — and be held accountable for the results.

Limiting the governor to as few as two candidates provided by a panel that’s answerable to nobody thwarts accountability rather than advancing it.

How can the governor be held responsible for education with so little real choice in shaping the BOE?

The Legislature’s plan is modeled on a similar scheme for appointing University of Hawai‘i regents, but that was enacted for the primary purpose of handcuffing a Republican governor and was sharply criticized as bad policy by the national body that accredits universities.

The electorate expressed an unequivocal desire for a fresh start in public education. Lawmakers need to put aside the old politics and give voters what they asked for — a school board truly appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Give DOE some room to manage

November 10, 2010

I feel terrible for communities faced with losing public schools in the face of shrinking enrollment.

But I also feel for Department of Education officials who face endless battles to achieve the necessary efficiencies to improve public education in tight budget times.

Every dollar in the DOE budget has a constituency, and any effort to re-prioritize faces stiff resistance, draining time and energy that could be better used finding ways to enhance learning in the classroom.

The latest battleground is Kalihi, where the DOE is proposing to close Puuhale and Kalihi elementary schools, where enrollment has declined, and transfer students to nearby Kalihi Kai, Kalihi Uka and Kaewai, which have plenty of empty classroom space to accommodate more students.

The DOE says the consolidations will save more than $1.5 million a year, and a Board of Education committee is recommending public hearings to move the plan forward.

But it’s only the beginning of a long and likely bitter fight similar to those involving other school closings.

Shutting schools can be painful for communities, and the DOE should have to fully justify its proposals to the public.

But at the same time, the public has to recognize budget realities and demographic shifts. It’s simply not fair to keep accusing DOE of failing to make the most efficient use of its funding — and then constantly handcuff administrators in managing their resources.

If we hire managers to do a job, it’s only reasonable to give them a measure of latitude and benefit of the doubt.

Abercrombie off target on blame for schools

October 1, 2010

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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