Two groups of lawmakers wanted answers Tuesday as to why current Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi is being replaced when the Board of Education has said she’s done a good job.

The explanations they received at a joint Senate Ways and Means Committee and House Finance Committee hearing on the DOE’s budget did not satisfy them.

Board members made the decision to search for a new superintendent in October, saying they felt it was an ideal time to transition to new leadership. Matayoshi’s contract expires at the end of June.

DOE Kathryn Matauyoshi testifies during a Hawaii State Ethics commission meeting. 27 may 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kathryn Matayoshi’s tenure as superintendent of the state Department of Education was a big topic at Tuesday’s joint hearing to discuss the department’s budget request. Matayoshi is seen here testifying during a Hawaii Ethics Commission meeting in May 2015.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Brian De Lima, vice chairman of the Board of Education and chairman of its Human Resources Committee, which conducted evaluations of Matayoshi’s performance, said the board wants a new leader who will look at issues in new ways.

The DOE is working to accomplish goals — such as better empowering schools and reducing the achievement gap between high-needs students and their peers – set by the Every Students Succeeds Act and updated strategic plan. De Lima said board members want to build on the momentum the department already has, adding that it’s not the board’s intent to set a new direction for the DOE.

“We find it very disturbing that you cannot provide specific examples other than, ‘We want to continue her work,’” said Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, at the hearing. “If you want to continue her work then why aren’t you retaining her?”

Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, added that what De Lima said conflicts with Gov. David Ige’s call over the weekend to reshape the public school system.

Rep. James Kunane Tokioka said lawmakers keep getting questions from their constituents about why Matayoshi is being replaced. 

Board members Kenneth Uemura and Darrel Galera said the governor did not talk to them about replacing Matayoshi.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye said she’s concerned about bringing in someone from outside Hawaii to lead the state’s education system, especially when it comes to rural areas that have trouble accessing education services.

“Can you see a new superintendent coming in from New Jersey or Michigan, coming into our neighbor areas in our state? It’s really concerning,” Inouye said, adding that if there’s continuity, the issues will be easier to rectify.

The DOE has a $1.9 billion operating budget and gets most of its funding from the state. The department had requested an additional $174.4 million for operations and $1.2 billion for capital improvements to facilities to cover the next two fiscal years.

The governor’s budget request was significantly lower: an additional $93.1 million for operations and $705.5 million for capital improvements for the next two fiscal years.

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