Act 51: Can It Save The Public Schools?
The legislature passed a bill “reinventing” the public schools. Now some of the town’s most powerful business executives are trying to make it work.
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HONOLULU: Bruce, you mentioned the weighted student formula. You’re head of the committee developing it. I know it’s complex, but how do you explain to people what you’re doing?
Coppa: This issue came up when we were moving discretionary monies to the principals. In its simplest form, what we did was put the emphasis on the students. Currently, as students move from school to school, if they have a need, the money to meet that need doesn’t follow them. For example, if English is a student’s second language, it becomes difficult for the school, so that gets a weight. With that weight comes so many dollars. In essence, when that student moves, he now moves with X number of dollars. The money follows the student to the next school, so now that school has the resources to support the student.
Moore: The weighted student formula, in theory, will be a more equitable allocation of resources than the present system, which is in some cases quite rational and, in other cases, has developed from years of successful lobbying on the part of this or that school community for more money.
HONOLULU: So this will actually mean that the school is funded according to the number and type of students it has?
Moore: That’s the theory, yes.
Coppa: There are some exceptions to that, places like Hana, where you’ll have to give more money just because of where they are. Lanai is another exception. Everything to Lanai is by air. Athletics, mail, everything you have to do by air.
Carey: To make this work, one piece that’s critical, and not yet embodied in Act 51, is financial measurement. I talked a little while ago about not knowing where anything was in the department. Now, imagine we’ve got a system that says each school is going to get X amount of dollars based on how many students of certain types it has, but the state financial system today is not set up to provide the real-time financial reporting that those of us in business are used to. That needs to change. It would really help the principals and complex area superintendents be better managers.
Toledo: Currently, funding is not tied to any performance measurement. You can’t tell, if you’re spending the money, whether it’s affecting performance.
D’Olier : For all of us to expect the superintendent and her leadership team, including a CFO, to accomplish this job, we need to deliver to them the ability to measure how the system is doing. They’re going to need a financial system; they’re going to need a student data system. The new head of human resources in the DOE is going to need a human resources system that is more than files of index cards.
HONOLULU: Index cards?
Carey: You have one of the largest employment branches of state government working off of a manual HR system based on index cards. That’s gotta change.
Coppa: The shocking thing is, you walk in there thinking that this is all under control, that the technology is there and that systems are in place. They’re not.
Horner: The reason they aren’t, as David pointed out, is that there’s no central accountability, so therefore you have parts of it in DHRD, part of it in Budget and Finance, part of it in DOE, part of it in BOE, part of it in the Legislature.
I think the superintendent has taken a bold step by hiring a human resource director from the corporate community. As opposed to what is historically the case, which has been, frankly, a retired principal. I think that’s a major step, that they’re hiring people that have expertise in those disciplines.
D’Olier : We’ve got Randy, who, in all due deference to Randy’s teaching ability, has a lot longer period of experience in the business world than in the teaching world. I look at him, to that extent, as somewhat of an outsider for the superintendent’s team. We’ve got Rod Moriyama helping with systems, who is a former IBM guy. So we’re starting to see hires from this superintendent from outside of the DOE world, which I believe is a positive thing.
Moore: All four of the current assistant superintendents have private-sector experience.
HONOLULU: The weighted student formula means a school will receive funds according to the number of students it attracts. But are students and parents going to be able to choose any school they want? Is a good school going to grow, and a not-so-good school going to dwindle?
Moore: Yes, that’s going to happen.
Toledo: Because of best practices, a school might become better at educating children with a special need or interest. Because of that, children with that specific need are going to gravitate to that school, parents will want to send their children to that school. Schools will become more specialized.
D’Olier : There’s a real opportunity. If you’ve get more money for dealing with children whose first language is not English, and you have a school that got really good at teaching those children, not only would they attract more of those kids, but they would attract more funding. As a business proposition, it becomes very interesting.
Coppa: To force the issue, when the money follows the student, it’s still coming out of the same pot. We’re not getting more money. Schools are going to have three years to get up to speed and function with the monies that they have.
HONOLULU: This is a philosophical question. You are all in the free-enterprise system. You face competition every working day. Even with school choice, the DOE wouldn’t face competition. A parent could only choose among DOE schools. Would we get better results if we opened it up to real competition? Let the money follow the student to any school, government-run or private?
D’Olier : I don’t know. We’ve got more competition in the system after Act 51 than we did before. We have more opportunity for good management and entrepreneurial behavior by teachers and principals than we did before. I’d have to have a lot more data to answer your question.
Quite frankly, the public schools are in competition with the private schools already. Even though you have to pay money to take your son or daughter outside, people are voting that way. We’ll know what success looks like when we see a migration of students from private school to public school. That’s part of what success will look like.
Carey: I grew up in the Denver public schools. The major private schools in the city were struggling for students, because the public schools were so good. It would be great if there comes a day that parents say, It would take an extraordinary circumstance for me to want to pay for private school, because my neighborhood public school is just fine. That would be the long-term vision.
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