HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In his state of the state address, Governor Neil Abercrombie outlined education as his top priority and appealed to lawmakers to give him the authority to appoint a school board.
Just a few hours after that, the Senate Education Committee took up and passed a measure that would do that - hearing testimony from educators, unions, students, and concerned citizens about how best to address the issue.
Now that the Governor is one step closer to having the power to appoint members of the BOE, he would like to see it fast-tracked through the entire legislature.
Abercrombie told lawmakers, "I am already receiving applications and recommendations through the Governor's website that will allow me to move quickly. This is the clear will of Hawaii's people. I am prepared to act now."
Hawaii's school board had been elected since 1964, but last November, voters decided to change that. The bill allows a governor to nominate 11 boardmembers - 10 voting and one, non-voting high school member - something the students want changed. They're calling for full voting rights.
"This student goes to all the meetings, the same amount of meetings as every other boardmember. He or she also does the same amount of work, plus their schoolwork," says Hawaii State Student Councilmember, Isaac Hein, a Kailua High senior.
The majority of testimony before the committee favored the bill - with minor changes."If you really want accountability, the best way to enact that provision with the constitution is to place the responsibility first, with the Governor, but secondly, with this Senate," says J.N. Musto from the U.H. Professional Assembly.
But the bill's detractors say it fails to create a fair, due process in selecting candidates. One opponent said it gives a governor too much authority - using Abercrombie's predecessor, Linda Lingle, as an example.
"Lingle was single-handedly able to institute furloughs over the objections of every group, over your objections, over my objections, over everybody's objections. Why would we want to give the governor's office more power?" asked Marguerite Higa.
If the bill does eventually pass, the Governor's appointees would be subject to Senate confirmation. This bill now goes to the full Senate on Wednesday for a second reading - where it's expected to pass. If it does, it then goes to the Ways and Means committee for further review.