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August 1998

Merger of Planning and Zoning Proposed (Astrid Monson)
President's Message (Grace Furukawa)
Voter Registration (Arlene Ellis)
Con Con Volunteers (Jean Aoki)
Dividing Governance from Finance (Mary Anne Raywid)
Vote Video
Orientation Meeting

Dividing Governance from Finance

One hears local school officials speak glowingly of Hawaii's "unitary" education system as a great advantage admired and envied by school people elsewhere. The arrangement provides for a single set of school officials who directly control every school in Hawaii – as contrasted with the set-up in every other state, in which state departments of education are supplemented by local school districts each of which largely controls its own schools.

I'm afraid I've yet to hear a statement of admiration or envy about the unitary set-up, elsewhere than in Hawaii – although it is noted in educational administration textbooks as the sole arrangement of its kind. One surmises that it is only historical accident that has fashioned things thus, since there are states with as few square miles as Hawaii, and others with no larger a student population, and others where schools are more widely scattered than in Hawaii – all of which seem to get along fine with the districts-plus-state department arrangement. (Although Hawaii has areas it calls school districts, unlike those of other states, districts here have no separate powers and their leadership is appointed by and responsible directly to the

State Superintendent of Schools. Thus an Hawaiian district superintendent represents the agent of the State Department of Education rather than the leader of a separate and distinct legal entity with its own jurisdiction.

The advantage claimed to be assured by the unitary governance pattern is equity. In the words of one former Board of Education chairman, it is "the best mechanism to bring about equal educational opportunities for all the children in the State." But that is by no means clear.

Actually, of course, there is no reason why a state could not have financial equity without the "unitary" governance arrangement. Why not local districts plus a state Department of Education with respect to governance, but sole source (state) financing? In fact this is quite close to the situation in many states today, since in the past decade states have assumed an increasing share of education finance, covering more than 90% of school costs in a number of states.

In Hawaii, the linking of school governance and finance has brought serious disadvantages. When you look at school-to-school differences, and contrasts in the way students fare, it is by no means clear that the state control has brought equity. But the "unitary" arrangement has produced a powerful monolith able to restrict the program and activity of every school in the state. I the absence of any other jurisdictions in the neighborhood, it can even pretty well control the educational conversation that goes on within the state. Ironically, then, an island community – which by virtue of its isolation has more reason than any other state (than, perhaps, Alaska) to try to deliberately stimulate intellectual ferment and discussion – is governed by an arrangement well calculated to stultify it! And all in the name of an advantage – equity – that the arrangement doesn't seem to have realized.

Mary Anne Raywid

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