With the State Supreme Court striking down ConAm, the obvious question is “Now what?” What is Plan B?
One argument that the opponents to the amendment used is “what does the DOE do with the money that it gets now?” Fair question. And Legislators are reluctant to give more money to the DOE until they know how the current money is spent. And I’m afraid that there is general skepticism in the community as well.
There is one step that could be taken to remove the skepticism. The Education Institute of Hawaii, a non-profit think tank, has employed Sherree Speakman, a national expert in school budgets, to analysis the Department of Education budget to answer the question of where the money is and where it goes. It is not an audit. Sherree will not make a judgement on the wisdom of spending on this activity or that activity.
Unfortunately, the DOE under Kathy Matoyoshi refused Sherry’s services and as did Christine Kishimoto. Because EIH believes that the question of where the money goes is vital to the DOE getting more funds, the Institute filed a Freedom of Information Act. The information is slowly being turned over to the Institute.
Why is this important? For years, the DOE has been accused of wasting money, of being top heavy, denying schools the money they need. There isn’t agreement on how much money the DOE gets. Some people say they get $2 billion and others say its $3 billion. Some say that the portion of the state’s budget is 29% goes to the DOE, others say it is 19%. The truth lies somewhere in between. A budget transparency study will resolve the question. Of course, everyone knows whether it is $2 billion or $3 billion, all that money will not go down to the schools. Right? Just a few of the expenditures in the billion figures include teacher fringes and the DOE’s portion of the unfunded health fund and ERS liabilities, the DOE’s portion of the debt service on bonds used to build facilities, attorney general’s services, the list goes on.
The second step while we are waiting for the completion of the study of the budget is to figure out what the restructuring of the DOE would look like in order to empower teachers and principals to run their schools by deciding what is best for their students. That is a complicated question to answer. What should schools decide? What should be done by the state office? What is the role of the state office? Do we need complexes? What kind of support do teachers want? This is just a sample of the questions that need to be answered.
Fortunately, there are some resources that can help answer some of those questions. In 1972, Superintendent Charles Toguchi developed Project Ke Au Ho which decentralized the DOE and had the support of HSTA, HGEA, UPW, the legislature, the Governor and the public. It was put together after more than 200 public hearings. Unfortunately, Charlie left office before Project Ke Au Hou could be implemented and his successor put the plan on the shelf and said, “we’ll have none of this.” It is time to take it off the shelf.
So, Plan B has two parts. One is to find out where the money is and how it is spent. Two, how will we restructure the DOE to empower teachers and administrators to make their schools great? Keep your eye on Plan B.
By Joan Lee Husted, HEA Board Member