by Andrew Walden
It consumes 40% of Hawaii’s State budget, and by all accounts produces mediocre results. Yet the Hawaii Department of Education has not undergone a complete top to bottom audit since 1973.
Hawai`i State Auditor Marion Higa's February, 2009 Procurement Audit of the Department of Education looked at only a small part of the DoE procurement budget and found millions of dollars wasted by what she termed "fraudulent unethical behavior." In a single $160 million project, Higa’s auditors identified $21 million in waste. But Neil Abercrombie doesn’t want anybody to dig any further.
The Maui News has noticed. They editorialized October 10:
“We hope Democratic gubernatorial candidate Neil Abercrombie misspoke when he told an event on Maui Wednesday night that the ‘last thing we need is an audit of the educational system.’"
Abercrombie didn’t misspeak. He’s been campaigning against a DoE audit since the Primary. In his “Recovery and Investment Plan” released October 5, Abercrombie claims:
“…the people of Hawaii whom I have talked to are not interested in how politicians will balance the budget. What they really want to know is how we will do the things we need to do with the budget we have….
“People are tired of waiting. No new audits or studies will delay immediate implementation of the plan.”
The Star-Advertiser October 7 reports:
(Republican Gubernatorial candidate Lt Governor James “Duke”) Aiona also has called for an independent financial and management audit of the department to identify waste and inefficiency.
Abercrombie said he does not need an audit, but rather an opportunity to work with educators.
Volcanic Ash columnist David Shapiro October 1 skewers Abercrombie for blaming the failure of Act 51 on Lingle administration calls for an audit:
Abercrombie said in a statement to the (Sept 26) Star-Advertiser, “There is a good reason why many of the best aspects of Act 51 are contained in my plan — decentralized school systems work, and large school districts across the country have been moving in this direction for years.”
Maybe so, but he’s off base in his politicized diagnosis of why so little has happened in the six years since the law passed.
“The reason the Lingle-Aiona administration was unable to implement Act 51,” he said, “had nothing to do with the merits of the act and everything to do with the fact that the Lingle-Aiona administration wanted to pursue a different course of educational reform on its own, like the unsuccessful pursuit of multiple school boards and an audit of the DOE.”
Pure nonsense. Gov. Linda Lingle has absolutely no power to set or implement policies for the Department of Education — and neither would Abercrombie; Act 51 was a creation of the Legislature, and implementing it was entirely the constitutional responsibility of the Board of Education, which as usual, was paralyzed by politics and indecision.
We’re glad that at least one newspaper editorial board has seen fit to highlight the audit issue. Any day now, reporters will barrage Abercrombie with questions. It came up during the October 6 Maui debate, and here is the result as described by Maui News:
Aiona has said that (a comprehensive audit of the DoE) would be a top priority of an administration led by him.
"If this was the case and it was needed, then why wasn't it done in the last seven-and-a-half years?" Abercrombie asked, referring to Aiona's part in the Lingle administration.
The simple answer is because the Legislature wouldn't approve one. In the last legislative session House District 10 member Angus McKelvey - a Maui Democrat - proposed one. The issue died in the Senate Education Committee.
Aiona is correct when he says the governor can request an independent audit, but the Legislature has to approve it.
Frankly, we can't see how - or why - anyone would oppose a full audit of a department that will spend over $2.4 billion this year. Let's face it, the results for this yearly expenditure have been less than spectacular.