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Hawaii Reform Plan Takes Steps Toward Decentralization

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A school-reform package approved before the Hawaii legislature adjourned last month takes key steps toward transferring decisionmaking and budgeting authority from the state's centralized education system to individual schools.

The legislation also gives voters the option of switching from an elected to an appointed board of education and having the governor appoint the school superintendent, who is now hired by the board.

Hawaii, the only state with a single school district and a centralized board of education, "has been the envy of Mainland states for its ability to equally apportion money between rich and poor, urban and rural schools,'' the legislation states.

"But,'' the bill adds, "the centralization standard has become a burden for Hawaii parents who want their schools to adapt to local needs.''

"The key and theory for the whole reform movement,'' said Senator Michael McCartney, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, "is to keep good portions of the centralized system intact ... but to decentralize the decisionmaking on how resources are used.''

The reforms "clearly start the revolution,'' he added, "but the revolution is not over yet.''

Although the legislature a few years ago set in motion a process by which schools can apply to form "school/community-based management councils,'' critics have charged that the movement toward site-based management has been slow.

The new measures are based largely on the recommendations of a task force on educational governance convened by the legislature. The panel released its report in March.

In addition to placing the choice of an elected or appointed school board before voters in November, the legislation requires the state education department to develop a plan for schools to assume control over their budgets.

The department's recommendations on procedures and accountability standards for a "lump-sum budgeting plan only for direct student/school allocations'' must be submitted to the legislature 20 days prior to its 1993 session.

To streamline the school-maintenance process, the legislation also authorizes the education department--rather than the department of accounting and general services--to work with schools in setting priorities for school repair, and allocates $8,000 to each school for minor repairs and maintenance.

The legislature's plan also allows the school/community-based management councils to participate in the hiring of teachers, principals, and other school personnel, and encourages representatives in collective bargaining "to discuss and facilitate decisionmaking at the school level.''

Other Provisions

The reform package also:

  • Limits the governor's power to restrict education appropriations.
  • Extends until 1994 the term of a commission studying new performance standards for student achievement. The commission must consider standards that are "results driven'' and also develop a model for school-by-school assessments.
  • Requires a review of state laws seen as hindering school-reform.
  • Encourages reform and innovation in the collective-bargaining process.

In addition to the $1.9 million appropriated for school repairs, lawmakers approved $15 million in supplemental education spending, partly to maintain current services and partly to cover school supplies and equipment and to help pay for computers in elementary schools.

Another $1.9 million was approved to accommodate increased enrollment in a state-subsidized after-school child-care program.

"Considering the fact that we are facing a decrease in our revenue picture and had to hold the line, this was a really good session'' for education, said Carolyn Tanaka, Gov. John D. Waihee 3rd's press secretary.

Sharon Mahoe, the president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, also called the reform legislation a "step in the right direction,'' and said the debate had "sparked a lot of interest in the community and an increasing amount of involvement'' by parent and community groups, businesses, and teachers.

"A more cooperative relationship has developed as a result of some of the modifications in the original proposals,'' she said.

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