A grassroots organization promoting a “yes” vote on a constitutional amendment for an appointed Hawaii State Board of Education has raised more than $200,000 so far and received some high-powered endorsements.

Hawaii’s Children First is led by former Democratic governors Ben Cayetano, George Ariyoshi and John Waihee.

Although the Hawaii State Teachers Association and members of the current elected education board oppose the ballot initiative, they have no equivalent initiative.

While supporters of the amendment say the teachers union is a powerful force against it, a union official says no money has been spent to defeat it and that no organized campaign has been formed to do the same.

Money In The Movement

Children First has received the majority of its donations from three sources:

  • Bill Reeves, philanthropist and co-founder of The Learning Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving Hawaii schools.
  • DiscoveryBox, a data storage and analysis firm. Its president is Children First Chairman Randy Baldemor.
  • Pacific Resource Partnership, an advocate for union construction that describes itself as “the critical link between Hawaii’s top contractors and the largest construction union in the state,” the 7,600-member Hawaii Carpenters Union.

Reeves contributed $100,000 to Children First in July, according to the organization’s year-to-date contribution report filed with Hawaii’s Campaign Spending Commission in September.

DiscoveryBox has contributed $52,180 worth of professional services, described in the report as “ballot issue consulting and management services.”

The Pacific Resource Partnership contributed TV advertising in August, valued at $27,168, according to the Children First report. However, the partnership’s campaign spending report does not list that donation.

Outrigger Enterprises Group has also donated $10,000 to the cause.

Other smaller contributions bring the total amount raised to $210,452.


Children First has been meeting and working since May, said spokeswoman Lynne Waters. The organization developed “a robust speakers bureau” of about 20 members who are well-versed in the ballot initiative, who visit local community groups and business meetings.

Other groups that have formally endorsed the initiative, she said, include:

“Beyond that, it’s been interesting to see a lot of principals come forward, too,” Waters said. “And (former superintendent) Pat Hamamoto came out in support of the appointed board. That was a big one for us, because she’s been in the hot seat in the (Hawaii Department of Education). As time goes on, we’re seeing lots of people who have worked in the trenches and feel that this is an important first step.”

A recent Civil Beat poll showed that 54 percent of likely voters support the amendment.

“Our coordination efforts have been yielding a lot of results,” Waters said. “We’ve been able to reach a lot of people that are outside of the power structure and downtown Honolulu.”

And after at least a week of mixed messages, Democratic candidate for governor Neil Abercrombie cast his vote in favor of the amendment on Tuesday.

The next campaign finance reports are due Monday.

DISCUSSION: *What are your thoughts on the campaigns for and against the proposed amendment for an appointed school board? Share them in our ongoing discussion.

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