Honolulu Advertiser Second Opinion column by Cliff Slater

April 14, 1994







(1) Digest of Education Statistics 1993. National Center for Education Statistics. NCES 93-292. p. 163, table 164.

(2) Ibid. Digest. p. 85, table 77, comparing columns 8 and 12 (1969-1991).

(3) Ibid. Digest. p. 129, table 130. Compares 1974 with 1991.

(4) Ibid. Digest. p. 163, table 164, column 27.

(5) Ibid. Digest. p. 85, table 77, column 5. $32,541 plus approximately 30% for benefits and retirement.

(6) Annual and Financial Report 1991-1992. Hawaii State Dept. of Education. p. 51. Textbook expenditures divided by average daily enrollment.

(7) Annual Reports for 1981 and 1992. Hawaii State Dept. of Education. Compare administration spending.

(8) Ibid. Reports 1981/1992. Spending for textbooks varies considerably from year to year and has trended down. Spending for textbooks during fiscal years 1981 and 1992 was $2.8 million and $3.2 million respectively, a decline of 30% in uninflated dollars.

(9) Pers. comm. Lance Yamamoto, Dept. of Agriculture. The 1983 Legislature authorized 318 permanent positions by Act 301 and in 1993, Act 289 increased them to 440.

(10) Nietzsche noted that fine education is not conducted in large state institutions any more than fine food is produced in institutional kitchens.


To reform schools, fix DOE


Legislators should take a hard look at the Dept. of Education spending before they heed the Governor's call to increase public education funding. Allowing for inflation, spending per student has risen 57% over the last twenty years,(1) while teachers' salaries have remained the same (2) and the quality of education has steadily deteriorated. (3)

We spend $5,166 per student (4) or $129,150 for a class of 25. We pay the teacher about $42,500, (5) including benefits, and spend another $19 per child on textbooks, (6) or $500 for the class. Combined, the spending for teacher and books totals $43,000. This leaves $86,150 of the $129,150 spent elsewhere.

The DOE rationalizes that it needs every penny in its budget and more besides. However, what kind of management is it that increases the bureaucracy (7) while decreasing the spending for books? (8) Education in Hawaii is not underfunded it is overmanaged.

These days, business is trying hard to push decision-making down to the lowest level of the organization and slim down corporate headquarters and other administrative staffs to the irreducible minimum. Educational organizations must do the same.

We taken the first tentative steps towards School-Community Based Management (SCBM) in Hawaii but a DOE bureaucracy that resists reform has resulted in little real change.

One cannot expect bureaucracies to reform themselves; it is against their nature. It is in the natural order of things for bureaucracies to bloat. For example, while Hawaii agricultural employment has declined precipitously in the last twenty years the number of bureaucrats at the Dept. of Agriculture has bloated to an all time high. (9)

In short, the only way to reform a bureacracy like DOE is to eliminate the organization and send its employees back to the schools. We must take SCBM to its logical conclusion before all these well-meaning bureaucrats stifle it completely. We must fund the schools directly with a set amount per enrolled student and bypass the heavy top-down management style of the DOE. We should govern each school with a board of teachers, parents and political appointees with the help of a business manager.

The governing boards of each school would decide how to allocate funds within their school. They would be on the scene and in touch with day-to-day activities and problems. The schools know what services and supplies they need and whether it would be better to combine with other schools for them or to seek outside suppliers. They will carefully scrutinize the money that is currently not being spent on classroom teachers and books. They will ensure that teachers, books and classrooms come first and will know the intelligent trade-offs to make. For example, they will know what parent resources they can call on to get classrooms built quickly and inexpensively. This will be true bottom-up management style; the parents and the teachers will be in charge.

Most of the current justification for centralized administration is erroneous. (10) Even centralized buying is greatly overrated in these days of instant communication and giant discount warehouses. For example, Honolulu's budget conscious private schools do not combine their purchases because the administrative, warehouse and shipping costs and delays would more than offset savings.

The Legislature will only need a small oversight agency to set statewide student performance standards, audit and compare the finances and performance of each school and its physical plant and other matters.

Only when we are willing to make such fundamental changes, can parents and teachers expect significant improvement in the quality of Hawaii's public school education. Taxpayers want the finest education system possible but they sense waste. They want an end to it.