January 25, 2002
Contact: Rep. Guy Ontai
(808) 586-6150



"We want to thank the majority Democrats for jumping onboard to consider ideas to decentralize Hawaii’s public school system," said Republican Rep. Guy Ontai. "As it stands now, the DOE is too large to solve problems. The key to making decentralization in the public schools work is to ensure that the schools have their own money and can decide themselves how to use it."

Across the state, Ontai said, schools have different needs, and the current centralized system of bureaucracy and red tape is hindering them from fixing what ails them the most -- whether it be campus repairs, hiring more teachers, paying for teacher raises, special education, and so on. "For example, appropriating money at the state level for computers sounds great, except that I know principals who would rather use the money for other school priorities. If anyone should be entrusted with these decisions, it ought to be the District Superintendents and principals who are in turn supervised by elected district and/or school boards," Ontai stated.

Ontai stated that local, elected school boards will assure accountability because board members live among and are closer to the school's host community. This means the boards will be better educated on the issues. It also means that the boards will be more accessible -- and more responsive -- to the educational needs of the school and community.

Said Republican Rep. Mark Moses, R-42nd ( Kapolei, Ewa, Waipahu, Kunia), "The DOE’s realization that a decentralized structure is important to Hawaii’s school system is a very reassuring step for real change to happen this legislative session. However, we fear that reorganization without real decentralized authority just won't work."

According to Ontai, the DOE’s new role under the Republican decentralization plan will include:

Moses said the DOE also needs to realize that some districts have more schools in disrepair than others and funding should be on a per student basis with additional allocations to ensure all schools are properly equipped and maintained.

Republican Rep. Bertha Leong, who has taught in Hawaii’s public schools for more than 20 years, said, "It is imperative that schools have control of their own money. Once students hit the third grade, the student-to-teacher ratio jumps from 20:1 to 34:1, and that is completely unacceptable and leads to faculty frustration due to the fact that it is impossible to attend to the needs of that many students.

"If schools had control of their own money, they could remedy that problem by putting their funds into making smaller class sizes. Accountability is more realistic with local, more representative school boards."