The Senate on Thursday confirmed two new members to the state Board of Education, a former teacher and deputy director at the state Department of Health, and a lawyer affiliated with a Honolulu nonprofit that works to support Pacific Islander students.

But the reappointment of an existing board member appears to be in trouble.

The Senate Education committee on Monday deferred decision-making on a vote to recommend to the full Senate the reconfirmation of Kili Namauu, whose three-year term ends June 30.

In Monday’s meeting, committee chairwoman Sen. Michelle Kidani said Namauu’s answers during her confirmation hearing last Thursday were “inadequate or showed little in the way of results” in students’ education outcomes.

DOE Board Member Kili Namau’u.
Board of Education member Kili Namau’u was appointed by Gov. David Ige and began her term on July 1, 2017. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

She also said the Board of Education’s swift approval of teacher pay differentials earlier this year was “particularly concerning to me, given the fact the board, and superintendent and governor made promises of money it could not guarantee, without the legislators knowing.”

Namauu, who received positive testimony supporting her renomination from community groups and others, declined to comment.

Board of Education chairwoman Catherine Payne said she was surprised by the committee’s deferral and wasn’t expecting that to happen. She didn’t express optimism either in seeing a future vote actually happen.

“For as long as I’ve been paying attention to the Legislature, when they defer something, it means it’s dead,” she said.

She added that Namauu, a preschool director for Punana Leo on Maui, is one of the “hardest working and dedicated board members” and has served as a leader in engaging Hawaiian language immersion programs.

Kidani did not respond to a request for comment.

Board of Education members serve staggered three-year terms and can serve up to nine years. The governor appoints these individuals, who are then subject to Senate confirmation.

In an email to Civil Beat, Ige spokeswoman Jodi Leong said the governor would comment on the renomination of Namauu “when decision-making takes place.” As for when such a vote would take place, “that would not be up to us,” she added.

“That would be up to the Senate, so the question should be directed to the Senate,” she said.

For anyone watching Namauu’s May 14 confirmation hearing before Kidani and Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, the vice chairwoman, it was clear the board member was on the hot seat, not only when it came to the issue of teacher pay differentials but on the Department of Education’s overall COVID-19 response.

The Board of Education is responsible for not only choosing and evaluating the superintendent — something the panel did Thursday — but in shaping and approving overall department policy.

Both Kidani and Kim grilled Namauu on the lack of DOE’s ability to provide basic data points, such as the distribution of electronic devices to facilitate online learning or where students are not getting educational services during the time of the pandemic.

“We want (students) to go back (to school) sooner than later, and it won’t be sooner if there is no constructive plan,” Kim told Namauu. “And if the board won’t drive the plan with the superintendent, I don’t know who will.”

Kim said she was concerned the board was not being proactive in looking at the challenges and preparing ahead of time, or coming up with a broader framework so schools have guidance and some consistency moving forward.

“This board is faced with a lot of different challenges than past boards and I hope you’re up to the challenge,” she said.

New Members Confirmed

Meanwhile, two new board members were confirmed Thursday by the Senate.

Lynn Fallin, who has more than two decades of senior-level policy and administrative leadership experience in Hawaii, and Shanty Asher, an education law specialist with Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, will serve three-year terms on the education board starting July 1.

Department of Education board meeting.
Two new members will join the Board of Education on July 1, replacing Brian De Lima and Nolan Kawano. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

They will replace Brian de Lima, a lawyer in Hilo who served on the board for nine years, and Nolan Kawano, chief financial officer for Island Holdings, who served one term.

During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Education committee last week, Fallin said she was looking forward to coming out of retirement to return as a public servant.

Among her policy goals are expanding public preschool, increasing the number of high school graduates and having the departments of education and health work more closely together, particularly during this time of the pandemic.

“In order for us to move forward with some of the challenges and yet stay focused on where we want to go regardless as a public education system, we all need to work together,” she said at her hearing.

Asher, who in 2018 became involved with a Farrington High pilot project that helps new Micronesian students transition to Hawaii, said she wants to help Pacific Islander students feel a better sense of belonging in the public school system.

“I’ve seen the faces of kids who want to be here, but feel they don’t belong,” she said at her hearing. “My dream is that every child who goes to school finds that their second home is a place where they feel empowered and can do just like everyone else who is doing very great.”

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