A closed-door vote by the Hawaii Board of Education last month to extend the school superintendent’s contract by a year is expected to be redone in an open session when the board convenes next week.

The decision to revote in a public meeting was made to settle any questions about whether the board had violated an administrative rule prohibiting any action in executive session that constitutes a decision, order or appointment, chairwoman Catherine Payne said Thursday.

“What we don’t want is anything hanging out there,” she told Civil Beat.

Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto Hurricane Olivia press conference.
The Board of Education will redo a vote to extend the contract of Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. Gov. David Ige weighed in on the issue Thursday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In a Dec. 21 special meeting, the nine-member board, which is in charge of approving Department of Education policy and selecting and evaluating the superintendent, voted to extend Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s three-year contract by one year, so it would expire July 31, 2021.

The board did so with the understanding that Hawaii statute permits such personnel-related actions in executive session, Payne said. Closed-door sessions were how previous boards have handled such matters since the board switched from being elected to appointed following approval of a constitutional amendment in 2010.

Following that switch, a statute prohibiting contract-related votes from taking place in executive session was repealed. Unbeknownst to the board, the Hawaii administrative rule adopted under the statute may have remained in effect, Payne said.

“We need to take a look at this whole issue,” said Payne. “We still don’t know whether the administrative rule is in effect.”

While there’s conflicting opinions on whether the board can decide such matters out of public view, state leaders, including the governor, emphasized their commitment to ensuring such personnel decisions are made openly in the future.

“I always stressed with the board that open, transparent government is really important,” Gov. David Ige told Civil Beat on Thursday. “It’s important to ensure that the general public has confidence those citizens are donating their time and being part of boards that help our communities work better.”

Board of Education members are appointed by the governor and serve three-year terms on a volunteer basis.

The vote redo is scheduled for Thursday. The public will have a chance to weigh in on the one-year contract extension and perhaps get to hear what the board thinks, too.

The Dec. 21 vote to extend Kishimoto’s contract by a year was not unanimous, and took place after about a two-and-a-half-hour meeting that also covered the school chief’s mid-year evaluation. It takes a simple majority for an action to be approved.

For now, “It’s the board’s intent (to extend the contract),” Payne said, “but it’s not in effect.”

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