by Andrew Walden
The HSTA and the DoE worked hard to make Hawaii public schools' 17 furlough days as chaotic and inconvenient a possible. Their goal: gin up pressure for tax increases. But in order to do this they need an ally--a group which provides the illusion of being independent of the HSTA and DoE. They have found it in the form of "KanuHawaii.org", a group headquartered on Bishop Street tied to the firm "3 Point Consulting."
Led by 3 Point co-founder James Koshiba, Kanu Hawaii is working hard to misdirect parents' righteous anger at the DoE's politically motivated attack on their children's education into the same tired old Democrat/Union demands for tax increases and a raid on the Hurricane Fund.
Heavily promoted by the Star-Bulletin, Advertiser, and KHON, Koshiba, who oddly makes pains to claim he is not speaking on behalf of the organization he heads, is circulating a petition which demands that the State "...find the resources and funding necessary to keep our schools open...." Koshibas' group is working to promote an October 23 rally called by the public school parents of HawaiiEducationMatters.org in order to co-opt them into serving the agenda of the HSTA and the DoE--this, in spite of the parents' protestations that they are "trying to keep the event nonpolitical."
Perhaps Kanu Hawaii is leery of claiming the support of its alleged 7,000 members since many are recruited by schemes such as this videotaped "discount poke" promotion in front of a Honolulu market.
On the Kanu Hawaii website Koshiba writes an October 13, 2009 "call to action" in which he argues:
It’s not too late for everyone – including our elected, appointed, union, and educational leaders – to start demonstrating that they prioritize our children. If they were to step up, here is what one way forward might look like:
1. The Legislature could convene a Special Session to find funding to fill part of the school budget gap, perhaps using a portion of the Hurricane Fund or the Rainy Day Fund. The new funds would cover only some of the furlough days, and some of these funds would be kept in reserve.
2. The Governor could then approve the release of these funds for school purposes. She would have to resist vetoing efforts by the Legislature to find resources for schools.
3. With part of the shortfall covered, the Governor and BOE, DOE and HSTA could re-open the contract. The education leaders could offer to make up the difference using holidays and planning days, or unpaid work days to fill the gap. Instructional days would be restored.
4. Come January and a new regular legislative session, all parties could consider longer term funding options.
Koshiba justifies the raid on the Hurricane Fund blithely asserting, "federal funds are set aside for disaster relief." That is an attitude which served New Orleans poorly after Katrina.
Just in case anybody hasn't figured out what Kanu Hawaii is all about, the "call to action" is decorated with a photo of the June 30, 2009 HGEA "United We Stand" rally where the union bosses directed about 2,000 HGEA members to protest against the furloughs they would later accept.
Many Hawaii charter schools--whose per-pupil funding was cut 27% this year-- were able to schedule their furloughs on "holidays and planning days". Others made cuts elsewhere and avoided furloughs altogether. The DoE system was cut only 14% in the State Budget--and made its cuts almost entirely out of instruction time. Clearly, every DoE school should be converted into a charter school.
DoE keeping itself in the dark
In spite of the Charter Schools' success, Koshiba's call to action specifies that the DoE should reschedule furlough days only after taxes have been increased and special funds have been raided. The idea that the DoE should be forced to eliminate waste, fraud, and corruption, does not enter into the equation. The DoE receives over $14,000 per student--$12,000 after budget cuts--but only $5000 to $7000 per student reaches the individual schools. Where does the rest go? Obviously it goes to something the DoE and HSTA consider to be more important than the 17 lost instructional days.
In his recent essay, "Public Education in Hawaii: Past, Present, & Future" Randall Roth points out:
One knowledgeable observer believes that the DOE is not trying to keep the public in the dark. According to him, "it‘s much worse than that". The truth, according to him, is that they have only a vague notion of what it costs to educate a student in a particular school, or how much of the operating budget actually gets to the classroom as opposed to being consumed by the bureaucracy. In other words, the DOE itself is in the dark. It‘s not a matter of bad people intending to do a bad job; instead, it‘s the predictable consequences of a governance system that lacks accountability.
In 2009, the State Auditor issued a scathing report on the DOE‘s procurement practices involving hundreds of millions in facilities money. She decried the underlying ―culture that allowed those practices not just to occur but to continue unabated for years:
"Our audit revealed a lack of proper leadership and controls over the department‘s procurement process and a resulting indifference toward procurement compliance … The department lacks corrective or disciplinary procedures for procurement violations, and the Board of Education has not [provided] oversight of procurement. The result is much confusion among employees and dissent within the department over proper procurement policies and procedures. … The office‘s many large-dollar capital projects were commonly procured with minimal planning and oversight. … The department has not maintained effective internal control [and] lacks required monitoring controls over its internal controls.
"The second phase of our audit revealed an organizational culture of disregard for procurement rules …. We encountered numerous instances of department personnel manipulating the professional services selection process and awarding contracts to predetermined consultants. … We discovered several other alarming practices … that appeared to be fraudulent and unethical."
In past years, the DOE periodically claimed to lack the money needed for soap, paper towels, and toilet paper, not to mention textbooks that are not obsolete. And now the system‘s chief financial officer and other senior members of the DOE‘s leadership team admit that they lack basic managerial information about how $2.7 billion is spent.
Fittingly, the Hawaiian word "kanu" refers to both "planting" and "burial". Koshiba's 2000-word "call to action" "burys" some information--mentioning none of the DoE's waste, fraud, and inefficiency--and disguises its' call for tax increases by "planting" it amidst paragraph after paragraph of rhetoric seemingly critical of the unions and the DoE.
For instance Koshiba complains:
"During budget making, both Legislature and Governor could have prioritized students by preserving the education budget, raising taxes to safeguard school funding, or cutting other areas to shift the burden of cuts away from students. Instead the Governor opposed tax increases and both she and the Legislature adopted an approach to budgeting guided by the principle of "everyone should sacrifice equally," making cuts across the board...."
That begs the obvious question: What was Kanu Hawaii doing during the last legislative session?
According to its website, the group was a big backer of HB444--Gay Civil Unions. But perhaps Kanu leaders' most telling testimony came in favor of two less prominent bills: HB 1271--the Barrel Tax on oil imports and and HB 1503, relating to limited liability companies.
Interestingly, their advocacy of Barrel Tax increases had nothing to do with funding the Department of Education budget.
In testimony submitted to the House Committee on Agriculture February 18, 2009 Koshiba complained that the Barrel Tax proposal was a measly $1 for every barrel of crude oil and other petroleum products imported into Hawaii. Joined by Olin Lagon, Kanu Hawaii's "Director of Social Ventures", and Kanu Hawaii board member Makena Coffman, Koshiba demanded that "the barrel tax should be structured to set a 'floor price' on oil of $100 per barrel." Kanu Hawaii member and green activist Josh Stanbro chimed in on line with a suggested $125 per barrel floor pointing out helpfully: "So right now at $45 barrel, the tax would be $80, but when oil goes up to $100, it will only be $25". Contrary to their predictions, during 2009 the price of crude oil on the NY Mercantile Exchange has so far ranged between $35 and $78 per barrel.
Hitting the poor hardest
In their testimony, Koshiba and the other Kanu Hawaii leaders acknowledged that the barrel tax is "highly regressive--hitting the poor hardest because they spend a larger portion of their small incomes on things like gas and electricity." They did not provide any estimate of how many more middle and lower income Hawaii residents would be forced to move to the mainland by the direct and indirect economic damage wrought by the proposed tax. But they did enthuse, "Setting a floor on the price of oil is the best way to sustain incentives that shift ... investor dollars toward renewable energy projects." Setting "the ($100 floor) barrel tax would generate $3 billion in its first year."
Now Kanu Hawaii has suddenly become interested in "funding necessary to keep our schools open"--an item which wasn't even part of their ten-point legislative agenda last session. Eight months ago, Kanu's spending plans for the annual $3 billion general fund windfall Kanu leaders expected to reap on the backs of Hawaii's poor did not mention the Department of Education--even as the crisis was becoming readily apparent to all economic observers. Instead they proposed subsidizing multi-billion dollar "renewable" electric producers suggesting, "revenues should be used to compensate communities that are burdened by new energy infrastructures...through community benefits packages" -- a burden of doing business in Hawaii which other companies must bear without government assistance. They also make a vague proposal about taking some of the tax money paid by the poor and giving it back as tax return welfare "perhaps through funding a State Earned-Income Tax Credit...."
$3 billion divided by 1.2 million Hawaii residents equals $2,500 per person--or $10,000 per year for a family of four. Hawaii already has the most expensive electricity in the nation--and the $100 per barrel tax-created price floor would only make it more expensive. Tourism, shipping, airlines, trucking, agriculture, and consumer gasoline prices would be hammered.
Why would Kanu Hawaii leaders be so very interested to line the pockets of super-rich "sustainable" energy developers with $3 billion taken from the pockets of Hawaii consumers and small business with a tax that also dramatically increases the fuel and utility costs of the State, DoE, and Counties?
The answer may come from testimony Koshiba gave April 2, 2009 before Sen. Roz Baker's (D-Maui Memorial) Committee on Economic Development & Technology 'in support of another bill--HB1503--relating to Limited Liability Companies. Citing his experience with "a consulting firm"..."a loan fund"..."a venture capital fund"... (and) "a technology company", Koshiba gushed, "many trusts, foundations, and high net worth individuals in the islands are interested in investments that produce both a social (or environmental) and financial return....HB 1503 would provide an important tool to double-bottom-line businesses, and dual-dividend investors to participate in ventures that do well (economically)...." And what is a "double-bottom-line" company? Koshiba explains, "companies that were founded to pursue a social or environmental mission and which generate a profit...."
Where might one find an example of the "double bottom line" companies Kanu Hawaii expects the poor and middle class Hawaii residents to pay $100 per barrel to support? One Kanu Hawaii member chirps, "I am in Maui right now working with an associate that is introducing sustainable technology to the David Murdock group on Lanai." Forbes Magazine lists Murdock, CEO of Castle and Cooke, as the 80th richest American with a net worth of $3.7 billion. But apparently Kanu Hawaii leaders think mom and pop in Waianae should be forced to pony up to "sustain" Murdock's latest "sustainable" energy scheme.
It is through deals like this that profiteers masquerading as environmentalists are taking their place alongside Hawaii union bosses as the partner of Hawaii's big business and landowning elites--and transforming the business, political, and legal landscape in a way which drives out local middle class and low income families.
Now they have turned their rhetorical skills toward "sustaining" the corrupt, unaccountable, and wasteful DoE bureaucracy and its favored contractors.
Who will be fooled?
Countering Co-optation: Maui TEA Party joins Wailuku Save our Schools Rally Oct 23
From the events calendar of the Members-only page of the Oahu County Democrats' Web Site (emphasis added):
10:00am to 1:00pm
Hawaii Education Matters March - Hawaii State Capitol
Hawaii Education Matters March. DATE: Friday October 23, 2009, TIME: 10:00am - 1:00pm, PLACE: Hawaii State Capitol, 415 South Beretania Street. Event program to include: - Rally space with appropriate permits for the front of the capitol and interior rotunda. We aim to fill the space with sign waving parents, children and supporters of public education. - Speakers to demonstrate the terrible cost of reduced class time. We plan to include community service representatives who work with families, parents struggling to find safe options for their children, and perhaps some state representatives who have suggestions for a better solution. - Delivery of a petition to Governor Lingle, Superintendent Hamamoto and the HSTA calling upon our leaders to find the resources and funding necessary to keep our schools open.