Education


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.

2008

Student: 2008

Along with most other states during the ’08/’09 recession, Hawai’i state government is suffering from a tax collection shortfall, compared to their previous forecasts. The Legislature was unwilling to raise taxes enough to cover the looming gap, and the Governor began trimming her departments accordingly.

2009

Student: 2010

The state Department of Education, which runs all public primary and secondary schools, took a 14% ($227 million) haircut. The details aren’t the Governor’s kuleana, that falling to the Board of Education. The Board and the state teacher’s union (HSTA) agreed to 17 to 21 furlough days for each of the ’09 – ’10 and ’10 – ’11 school years, with a targeted savings of $114 million, the rest to come from programs and school-level funding. Rather than take the some of them on the 11 planning and staff professional development days, they took it all out of class days, to the tune of a 9.5% cut in instruction.

My theory is that before the Board and Superintendent Hamamoto sat down with the HSTA negotiators, they decided that their priority was to minimize disruption to the education bureaucracy. So, the kids can take it in the shorts, least the cadre of administrators, whose numbers doubled in ten years, be dissipated? In that time, the number of students shrank by 1.7%. If the DoE had seen fit to cut the administrative head count back to the ’94-’95 level, and allow for the 30% cost of living increase by ’06-’07, they might have had over $328 million of slack to work with. Why not? Dat why hard? Great, just great.