November 2009


A year or two ago on Akaku TV, I participated in a panel discussing the merits of holding another Hawaii State Constitutional Convention. Towards the end of the broadcast, we took a few questions from callers. One was from a younger gentleman in Pukalani, who questioned why we were bothering to argue over a function of – in his view – an illegitimate entity, the State of Hawai’i.

In today’s Maui News Letters, this issue popped back up in a letter from a gentleman in Haiku reporting an attorney’s motion to dismiss a case (probably State v. Akahi), based on the claim that a State court didn’t have jurisdiction to hear it.

I’d ask him on what competent authority he bases his claim that the Court lacks jurisdiction.

A government’s legitimacy flows from the recognition of its standing by enough people within its jurisdiction. As such, its words become more than hot air and ink. Within Hawai’i, this passed from the Kingdom, to the Republic, and hence to the United States. Despite strongly argued opinions to the contrary, the vast majority have lived, learned, worked, fought, and died in a way suggesting their recognition that they live within the “State of Hawai’i”, a constituent part of the “United States”. I’m not claiming everyone is all smiles about the history, but that they recognize what is.

I can’t read the mind of the attorney questioning the Court’s jurisdiction, but if someone were representing me, I’d prefer they stick to the accepted case law, and not waste time on a long shot that the judge is a closet sovereignty advocate. But then, I’m not the pretender to the throne. The day that an entity styled the “Kingdom of Hawai’i” is real in the hearts and minds of enough Hawai’i residents that it can compel action based on its decisions, I’ll revisit my outlook.

The November Kihei Community Association meeting theme was public education, featuring a presentation by Group 70, which is working on the EIS for the future Kihei High School, and a panel discussion regarding the truncated 2009-2011 school years.

Kihei has long been agitating for a local high school, and most of Group 70ʻs presentation wasnʻt too much different from other high school plans Iʻve seen over the last ten years. The difference was that there are now hard start and completion dates: the summers of 2012 and 2014. My son will be out of college by that point, but itʻll still be a plus for the community.

KCA Education Panel, November 2009 meeting

From the left: KCA moderator A. Beerer, M. Cochran, B. Anderson, B. Wurst, R. Baker, G. Zarro, Y. Biegal, B. Bunting

The panel was a mix of education stakeholders:

  • Mary Cochran – Member, Hawaiʻi Board of Education
  • Bruce Anderson – Maui District Superintendent, Department of Education
  • Barry Wurst – Teacher, King Kamehameha III Elementary School, HSTA negotiator
  • Roz Baker – 5th District, Hawaiʻi State Senate
  • Gene Zarro – President, Kihei Charter School Board
  • Yvonne Biegal – Parent, Kamaliʻi School
  • Bridget Bunting – President, Kihei School PTA

The panelists were each given time for a five minute statement, and then answered written questions from the public. Comments that caught my attention included:

Mary – responding to a question regarding the ratio of teachers to support and admin staff. Her claim is that weʻre low compared to mainland school districts, and that 30% of the budget ainʻt a bad overhead rate. She also presented a laundry list of responsibilities a local school district would need to take over from the state. I think those considering the idea were already aware of this. Whether a local district would lead to lower overhead is an excellent question. However, as my wife the former DoE employee points out, the current system is very Oʻahu centric, and tends to shortchange the staff on the Neighbor Islands.

Bruce – thinking back to his days as a Makawao Elementary School principal, reminded us how many support staff are needed to run a school… which still begs the question whether his stated head count is absolutely critical during a budget crunch.

Barry – described the process that led to the HSTA voting to approve the furlough plan. During Q&A, he declined to guess at whether the membership would vote to approve reassigning professional development days as instruction time. Probably a good decision, since anything he says out of turn as an HSTA official can have a major affect on the membership. He noted that furloughs and layoffs will probably add to the existing high turnover among newer hires.

Roz – pointed out that we received several million in Federal education stimulus dollars, which the Governor used as an opportunity to transfer a similar number of dollars out of the DoE to other portions of the budget. She seemed to anticipate that the Legislature would hold a special session to discuss the Governorʻs latest school budget proposal.

Gene – pointed to the charter school as an example of local school control in action. He also noted one major benefit of the Hawaiʻi statewide school system: funding parity throughout the state. This is a major issue on the mainland.

Yvonne – in so many words, she labeled the thought that county-sized school districts couldnʻt be successful as B.S. Quite true. A very forceful delivery.

Bridget – touted the PTAʻs Furlough Fridays enrichment program, We Can Do It, which would provide a full school day of art, music, and other programs trimmed from the regular curriculum long ago. Some of her comments suggested that there had been some resistance to the program. She provided a URL which I didnʻt correctly record. Iʻll update this note when I get the correct information. Update: Mr. Waldenʻs post on redcounty.com looked to me overly conspiratorial. As the former DoE intelligence agent Iʻm married to suggested, if the Kihei School PTA is getting push back, the reasons are likely more pedestrian. A few years ago, the DoE took a stab at “local control” by shifting much of the budget responsibility down to the individual schools. This left the principals on the hook for balancing everything from teacher salaries to the electric bill. If they go over budget, there are consequences. If  the current 2009-10 budget depends in part on powering down the schools, flipping the switches back on might prove a problem. Also, the principals are on the same furlough schedule as everyone else, and may resist the idea of open classrooms when theyʻre not present to keep an eye on things. Just a thought.

The panel closed with Mary taking issue with some of Yvonneʻs statements regarding a Stateview vs. local school boards. Ms. Cochran has a reputation as a no-nonsense lady, and it certainly came across during the meeting. I havenʻt reviewed the Board minutes to know exactly where she stood while they reacted to this yearʻs budget cuts, other than a newspaper report that she had asked if the DoE administration could be trimmed. However, the decision made, it seems to me sheʻs sticking with it. Frankly, I would appreciate someone – anyone – in the furlough decision-making process conceding that they made the wrong choice.

Alexander & Baldwin is one of the Big 5 companies that traditionally ran the State of Hawaii. A&B’s major lines of business include Matson Shipping, real estate sales and leasing, and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company. Sugar once defined A&B, but since the late ’90s the fields have contributed nothing to the bottom line. From a corporate viewpoint, HC&S is a land bank. One of their recent Annual Reports listed over 11% of their 60,000 ag acreage on Maui as available for near term urban development. (Click to enlarge plots)

A&B Revenue

Whether they farm or develop, A&Bʻs business needs water. Their 100 year old East Maui Irrigation subsidiary supplies most of their needs, the rest purchased from Wailuku Water. In either case, stream water is diverted into ditches, very little being left to support downstream farmers or fresh water fish stocks. The ditch system supply is total dependent on rainfall, which has been on a downward trend for several decades. Although their cultivated acreage has dropped by thousands of acres, and now use drip irrigation, these changes arenʻt reflected in their water draw. There is anecdotal evidence that the company is dumping water to justify a continuing share of water resources for their post-agricultural plans.

A&B Net Revenue

In Hawaii, all fresh water resources are considered a public trust, and the State Water Commission has been slowly moving forward to reallocate water resources to other uses, such as the Maui County Department of Water Supply, taro farmers, and stream maintenance. During October, HC&S mobilized some of its 700 remaining employees to fight to continue the company’s current water draw by appearing at news conferences, Commission meetings, and with letters to the Maui News, casting the issue in terms of well paid jobs that would be lost if existing sugar cane acreage can’t get water.

A&B Margin

Unfortunately, a look at the books tells the tale. It seems clear that A&B is biding its time, keeping its ag operations on life support as they transfer cane fields to their very profitable real estate development and leasing unit. In the meantime, I’d argue, the HC&S field and sugar mill staff are being used in a PR campaign to retain claim to millions of gallons of public water.

Data source: http://www.alexanderbaldwin.com/investor-relations/financial-reports/