What do the school board chairman, a president of a nonprofit and Kamehameha Schools have in common? They all have a stake in helping to reform Hawaii’s charter schools.

A task force of 10 policymakers on Wednesday began a three-month examination of the authority structure for the charter school system.

The Hawaii Charter School Governance, Accountability and Authority Task Force was established by law during the 2011 legislative session to help unravel known knots in the lines of accountability for the 31-school charter system.

At least one school has faced allegations of unethical hiring practices during the last year, and in February the executive director was asked to resign over differences of opinion about her job responsibilities.

But the group, consisting of a cross-section of key players in both public and private education, is not interested in punishments — only solutions.

“This task force is in no way meant to be punitive or investigational,” said Sen. Jill Tokuda, who co-chairs the task force with Rep. Della Au Belatti. “This in no way is meant to focus on what’s going on specifically at any particular school. Our goal is to take a look at some of the challenges going on, and answer ‘How can we make changes for the system as a whole?'”

Members of the task force include:

One thing the task force will not be, Tokuda says, is overly theoretical.

“We want concrete items at the end of this task force life,” she told the members.

The task force will meet four more times through Oct. 12 to address four major areas ranging from clearly defining the responsibilities of key agencies to discussing appropriate funding levels.

  1. Develop laws and administrative rules that clearly designate the authority roles between and among key charter school organizations and the Hawaii Department of Education, Board of Education and the governor’s office.
  2. Define how that governance structure is to relate to the Department of Education.
  3. Identify oversight and monitoring responsibilities of the Charter School Review Panel, the Charter School Administrative Office and the local school boards. Develop a process for enforcement.
  4. Discuss funding-related issues, including but not limited to appropriate funding levels for the Charter Schools Administrative Office.

The concrete items Tokuda promised will then be presented to the Legislature at least 20 days before the 2012 session begins.

“It’s time to see what is working and what isn’t working,” said Roger McKeague, executive director of the Charter School Administrative Office and a member of the task force. “There’s a lot of experience here in-house and we want to make sure we tap into that.”

He said the task force presents Hawaii with the opportunity to shape its educational future, rather than letting it just take shape haphazardly.

Belatti said she appreciates the innovation mission of the charter school movement and hopes whatever the task force produces can help improve on the quality of experimentation happening in Hawaii’s schools.

The state’s efforts have already gained attention from the National Governors Association, which has offered technical support for meetings.

Click here to view footage of meetings and keep up with the group’s progress.

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