Educators and others are concerned that an outside donor paying for the search for a new Hawaii school superintendent has too much influence over the outcome.

The board also needs to include more teachers and principals in the search, people testifying at Tuesday’s Hawaii Board of Education meeting said.

The search for a new superintendent for the Department of Education has been going on about two weeks, but is still raising concerns.

The problems began when Gov. Ige announced earlier this month that Board of Education member Darrel Galera resigned from the board to apply for the superintendent position. Galera, a former public school teacher and principal, accepted the position in October.

Board of Education building2. 10 jan 2017
The Department of Education surveyed hundreds of people regarding what qualifications should be required of a new school superintendent. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Harold K.L. Castle Foundation then suspended its $50,000 donation in an effort to “restore integrity to the process,” which prompted the BOE to halt the search. After Galera withdrew his candidacy, the search resumed.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee said at a Tuesday BOE meeting that the union was “deeply troubled” over recent events involving the search.

He pointed out that only one of the 12 members on the BOE’s search advisory group was a teacher — Sung Man Park, a Washington Middle School teacher. Elementary school, high school and special education teachers were not included in the search, Rosenlee said.

Given that Galera withdrew his application after funding was temporarily pulled, Rosenlee said the foundation holds too much power over the search’s outcome. He questioned whether the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation pulled funding because it disagreed with what Galera could have done as superintendent.

The cost for the BOE to pay for the search on its own would be half the cost of what it takes to install a classroom air conditioner, Rosenlee told the board.

“Despite the foundation’s long record of funding public education initiatives, no private entity should be able to decide who the next superintendent will be by controlling the process’s purse strings,” Rosenlee said.

After the hearing, he told Civil Beat the board could have hired someone to oversee the search. 

Galera should have had a chance to apply, he said.

Earlier this month, Rosenlee said HSTA didn’t have an official position on superintendent candidates, but that Galera had the right values for the job.

John Sosa, Education Institute of Hawaii executive director, also argued to the board that the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation used its funding to impact the search process. Galera was widely supported by the education community and qualified, but the foundation’s withdrawal of its funding forced him to step down, Sosa said.

EIH encouraged the BOE to find more meaningful ways to involve teachers and principals in the discussion, and offered to host candidate forms, he said.

“The candidate’s professional reputation was called into question, the media and others portrayed him as a manipulator, part of a larger effort to manipulate the selection process. These are all unfortunate consequences,” Sosa said, adding the incident distracted from the search and tainted the board’s reputation.

“There should’ve been confidentiality with regards to the applications and that was not adhered to.” – BOE Chair Lance Mizumoto

Randall Roth, a University of Hawaii law professor, said he had a “grave concern” about the job description, which failed to mention the educational blueprint created by Ige’s Every Student Succeeds Act team. An explanation of Ige’s vision for the Department of Education should be in the job description, Roth said. 

The requirements, which demand candidates have a master’s degree in specific fields and five years’ experience as leader of a large organization, describe a “seasoned bureaucrat rather than a change agent,” Roth said.

After hearing public testimony, BOE Chair Lance Mizumoto said the board didn’t have enough money in its budget to fund the search.

Galera’s resignation from the board and candidacy for superintendent came as a “complete surprise,”  he said. When Galera announced his candidacy before anyone else had applied, Mizumoto said others could have been discouraged from applying. 

Mizumoto acknowledged Galera’s passion for education and said the board hoped he would find another role in public education.

“There should’ve been confidentiality with regards to the applications and that was not adhered to,” Mizumoto said. “The other thing that I’d like to point out is that when former board member Galera was asked to be on the board, the governor did ask the question whether he had intended to apply for the superintendent job, and the answer was no.”

Vice Chair Brian De Lima agreed that the position description should reference the governor’s blueprint for public education. He defended his colleagues after testifiers suggested that the board caved to the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation’s pressure.

“No one here is a rubber stamp for anyone, and I can assure you that when we vote, we vote our conscience,” De Lima said.

For the past two weeks, board member Hubert Minn said, he “listened and read what was going on by certain writers” and said it was sad that Galera, who devoted his life to education and was liked by his peers, could not be a BOE member or apply for the position. He reassured the audience multiple times that the search process was not manipulated.

“It’s sad when I get letters telling me all about him, writing all of these terrible things and won’t sign your name,” Minn said. “And those go right in the rubbish can as far as I’m concerned.”

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