Hawaii’s Board of Education members promised culture change during their confirmation hearings earlier this year, and barely more than four months later, it’s clear that they’re already bringing it.

A regular business meeting on Tuesday highlighted the appointed board’s tendency to step back from Department of Education recommendations and question their philosophical underpinnings before making decisions.

The department asked the board to approve a routine public hearing. But a decision was tabled until a later meeting after board members raised concerns about the thinking behind the department’s recommendation.

The board deferred a vote on whether to schedule a public hearing on a McKinley Complex school consolidation study. It is the next step prescribed in an ongoing process of evaluating school facilities, complex by complex, to ensure they are efficiently meeting the state’s education needs.

According to Hawaii Administrative Rules, the studies are to be submitted to the public for discussion. Following a public hearing, the Department of Education issues a recommendation on which, if any, of the schools in a complex ought to be consolidated. The board then makes a final vote on the department’s recommendation.

But board member Brian DeLima spoke out against sending the study to the public before the department develops a recommendation. Such studies in the past have generated strong emotional responses from the communities affected by them, and opening such a study up for public discussion would unnecessarily stir people up, especially if the department decides it doesn’t want to close any schools after all.

“Before we start generating public concern and asking for comments, I think maybe we should spend a little more time thinking about the report and thinking for ourselves if there’s information we want the Department of Education to follow up on before we throw it out there to the public,” he said.

He advocated for further reflection, and reprimanded the Department of Education for delivering a consolidation study that is “grossly lacking” and doesn’t answer all the questions that ought to be answered before deciding whether to close a school.

Board of Education Chairman Don Horner said he was swayed by DeLima’s concerns and added that the consolidation study, hearing and decision-making process needs to be reworked and made more strategic. The study, for example, ought to include the department’s plans for any facilities that would be vacated and whatever money might be saved by closing a school.

Wesley Lo, chair of the Finance and Infrastructure Committee, said a sound strategy might even mean no longer doing the studies complex by complex.

“We seem to be looking at this from a complex area perspective, and I think many of my colleagues here commented on the overall plan and perspective. I think we would like to get a more global understanding of the strategies of the department.”

Horner told facilities superintendent Randy Moore that it would help the board if he and the other assistant superintendents provided monthly reports on their various projects and the reasoning or strategies behind them.

The board postponed its vote on whether to schedule the public hearing and asked the department to produce more information about the financial impacts of any potential school consolidations in the McKinley Complex.

During his confirmation hearings, Horner told lawmakers that the board “should be more strategic versus tactical. We should support the superintendent in developing an overall strategic plan and diligently monitor its progress.”

It appeared Tuesday that the board was doing just that.

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