Hawaii’s interim superintendent, Patricia Hamamoto, promises to “stay the course” and build on the systemwide changes Paul G. LeMahieu initiated, in spite of his abrupt departure from the state chief’s post earlier this month.
“We have a solid foundation in place, and a valid blueprint for school improvement,” the former deputy superintendent and high school principal said in a statement after she accepted the position Oct. 19. “While our top leadership has changed, our focus on the students has remained the same.”
One day earlier, the Hawaii board of education accepted the resignation of Mr. LeMahieu, whose relationship with a woman under contract with the department was being investigated by a state legislative panel.
The woman, Kaniu Kinimaka-Stocksdale, is the head of Na Laukoa, a consulting company in Hilo, Hawaii, that received a subcontract to help the statewide district comply with what is known as the Felix consent decree, a federal court mandate to improve special education services.
Na Laukoa’s $600,000 subcontract was part of a $2.3 million contract awarded over a year ago to Honolulu-based Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, or PREL, one of 10 regional school improvement laboratories financed by the U.S. Department of Education.
The joint legislative committee has been reviewing the costs associated with meeting the court’s requirements.
After resigning, Mr. LeMahieu told local reporters that his relationship with Ms. Kinimaka-Stocksdale, a former entertainer, had “crossed the line.” But he also said that the subcontract had been awarded before a brief affair took place. Neither Mr. LeMahieu nor Ms. Kinimaka-Stocksdale could be reached for comment last week.
The legislative committee, as well as members of the state board of education, had been concerned that there were possible conflicts of interest involved in the contract with PREL, even though a federal judge had granted Mr. LeMahieu the authority to make the improvements necessary to bring several schools into compliance with the consent decree.
Last spring, the board asked the superintendent to step down from his position as a PREL board member, although state schools chiefs routinely serve on the boards of the federal Education Department’s regional labs. (“Hawaii Chief Resigns From Board of Federally Funded Lab,” May 23, 2001.)
News of Mr. LeMahieu’s relationship with the consultant apparently came as little surprise. “The rumors were rampant,” said Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the state education department.
He added, however, that beyond the issue of the relationship, questions were being raised about whether Mr. LeMahieu was still an effective leader.
“We are moving forward and are trying to continue in the general direction,” Mr. Knudsen said, describing the superintendent’s resignation as a “hurdle that has been taken out the way.”
Mr. LeMahieu, regarded as an authority on educational accountability, is credited with making standards-based improvements to the 183,000-student system. It is for that reason and others that some are disappointed to see him leave.
“We didn’t agree on everything, but we believed that he was helping schools move in the right direction,” said Danielle Lum, the spokeswoman for the Hawaii State Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. “Now we don’t know where we stand.”
Mr. LeMahieu was hired in 1998, and was the first schools chief in the state to be hired from outside Hawaii. The state board is now expected to launch another nationwide search.