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Sunday, April 3, 2011
Abercrombie’s Board of Education: Accountability begins now, and it’s already ugly
By Andrew Walden @ 11:40 PM :: 7202 Views :: Energy, Environment

by Andrew Walden

Neil Abercrombie has appointed his new Board of Education, and they haven’t even been confirmed yet, but the accountably begins now and Abercrombie has made it retroactive.  A Star-Advertiser editorial says, “New BOE era off to good start”--it is dated April 1, and the joke is on Hawaii school kids.  Why? Abercrombie points out to Civil Beat the key characteristic of his appointees: “They all support DoE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi ‘because she's doing such a great job.’"

Newly minted BoE member, Big Island attorney Brian DeLima’s April 2 comments to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald lay out how much deference the BoE expects to give the Superintendent:

"As soon as we get in there, we're going to do a policy audit. We're going to look at what decisions can be handled by the superintendent and her staff, and reduce our footprint," he said.

Board members also expect to trim their support staff from 12 employees to five, DeLima said. Each staff member will assist a different standing committee, and they will all answer to the superintendent.

The new board will also consider making their meetings much shorter, and fewer and further between….

So Abercrombie is accountable for the Board and he has selected a Board which thinks Matayoshi is “doing such a great job.”  This means Abercrombie is accepting accountability for Matayoshi.  And what is the job she has been doing over the last few weeks?

  1. Matayoshi testified before the Legislature in support of HB945, delaying implementation of last year’s legislation requiring a 180-day school year and dropping the 180-day requirement from any school deemed to be “multi-track”.
  2. Matayoshi testified in support of SB 1284 SD2 HD1 which is designed to create a justification to force disabled children—and the funds which go with them—back into the DoE schools – in clear violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  3. Matayoshi on March 22 quietly won a federal support for a delay in implementing Race to the Top goals by up to 18 months.
  4. Matayoshi testified in support SB1282 and HB1055 ending “norm referenced testing” throughout the DoE in favor of a new test which does not exist yet and is not projected to be written until 2015.
  5. Matayoshi has successfully pushed to close neighborhood schools in the name of saving a few hundred thousand dollars a year while doing nothing to implement the recommendations of Hawaii State Auditor Marion Higa's February, 2009 Procurement Audit of the Department of Education. The audit report identifies at least $21M in waste from just one $160M project.
  6. SB605 would grant fat salary hikes to Matayoshi and other DoE bureaucrats.

In other words, Abercrombie's DoE is already trying to postpone the 180-day school year law, balance its budget on the backs of disabled children, end testing until after Abercrombie faces reelection, delay Race to the Top reforms, sell off schools to rake in bucks from the real estate market, and boost Matayoshi’s salary. 

To lead the charge, Abercrombie picked First Hawaiian Bank Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Don Horner.  He has a gift for using the word “audit” when he is talking about anything but.  For example, Civil Beat March 30 enthused: “Abercrombie Takes Cues On Schools From Aiona.” 

In one of life's inevitable twists of irony, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie's new appointed Board of Education plans to pick up where his former campaign opponent left off last November: By proposing an internal audit of the Department of Education and the board….

The new Board of Education chairman-to-be, Don Horner, plans not only to do what Aiona proposed, but also to carry the effort one step further by establishing a board committee solely dedicated to internal audits.

During his gubernatorial campaign, Duke Aiona called for a comprehensive top-to-bottom financial audit of the DoE—which has not been comprehensively audited since 1973.  But Horner apparently thinks “audit” means giving power to Matayoshi.  The Star-Advertiser March 31 reports:

Horner…said he intends to begin work quickly to conduct a “policy audit” to determine what the BOE does — and, potentially, what it shouldn’t do. He said the board will assess what responsibilities and authority could be transferred to schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, though he declined to identify what duties might be turned over until the audit is completed.  He expects to have the audit completed by early June.

For readers who are confused about the importance of financial auditing, just go into the nearest First Hawaiian branch office and fill out an application for a $1.7B revolving line of credit.  Be sure to tell the loan officer you haven’t had a financial audit since 1973--but Horner says a “policy audit” will do the job.  See if you get the loan.  

Horner is consistent, if noting else.  He is against financial accountability, and he is against professional accountability as well.  As part of a February 18 Advertiser interview, Horner explained:

There's a big debate in the world of education about how you measure accountability, and it may seem strange but I'm not as much of a proponent of that. For someone coming from the business community, you might think that would be high on my priorities….

But there is one exception: Horner seems intensely interested in accountability to the unions.  He tells the Advertiser:

I'm ready to work with my colleagues, the governor, the Legislature, the unions — all the stakeholders….

I've had conversations with HGEA (the Hawaii Government Employees Association). I've spoken with Will (Okabe) from HSTA (Hawaii State Teachers Association). I haven't had the chance to talk to UPW (United Public Workers) yet, but I will. I've known these men for a number of years and I don't anticipate any issues because I know they want student achievement also. They want a work environment that's best for their members. And I think a new Board of Education will want the same thing, that our goals will be in alignment.

---30---

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