Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Campbells are Coming!

From the Hawaii Island Journal, earlier this year:

The Campbells are Coming!
Off-island dollars skew mayoral race

by Alan D. McNarie

The heirs of the Campbell Estate have been known to occasionally lavish funds for good causes on Hawai'i Island. In 2006, for instance, the James and Abigail Campbell Foundation donated $15,000 to Puna Friends of the Park and $5,000 to Pahoa Schools for youth projects.
But the heirs' biggest local beneficiary, recently, has been a Hawai'i County mayoral candidate.

Billy Kenoi, the former executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, has been holding campaign rallies and fundraisers, both on this island and on O'ahu. According to the most recent campaign spending reports filed, for the period ending December 31, 2007, he has already raised more than twice as much money as his nearest competitor, Councilmember Stacy Higa; the difference is due to been off-island donations.

Higa's campaign spending report lists $36,600 in total donations, while Kenoi raised $73,890. But Higa's Hawai'i Island donors who gave at least $100 gave him more money ($20,100) than did Kenoi's on-island supporters ($18,270). The vast majority of Kenoi's cash comes from O'ahu and, to a lesser extent, the mainland.

Many of Kenoi's O'ahu supporters donated relatively small amounts-in the $100-$250 range. But he also has attracted plenty of money from real estate and construction industry heavy hitters, such as Baywest Property's Jonathan McManus, who donated $1000 and whose company chipped in $1000 more; NORDI Construction president Glen Kaneshige ($1000); WCIT Architecture's president, Robert Iopa ($4,000), whose job description says he's "responsible for leading design and project management on resort and luxury residential projects," and Gary Okamoto of the engineering firm Wilson Okamoto ($2000)-a perennial heavy donor that also frequently gets government contracts (it recently redesigned the Pohoiki boat ramp in Puna). And Kenoi, an attorney who has practiced both here and on O'ahu, understandably has picked up some checks from other lawyers.

Many of Kenoi's contributors listed their profession as "investor." Most of those "investors" contributed $1000 or more, and most contributions were dated October 31, 2007, according to the Campaign Spending Commission's online records.

As it turns out, all of those listed as "investors" are heirs of the James Campbell Estate.

The Journal tracked down at least $26,150 in direct contributions to Kenoi's campaign from 13 Campbell Estate heirs. The Campbell heirs' donations accounted for more than a third of Kenoi's swollen war chest.

Pocket change
For over a hundred years, the Campbell Estate managed the holdings left by a former ship's carpenter who made his fortune by acquiring land in
Hawai'i. The estate officially dissolved in January 2007, 20 years after the death of James Campbell's last daughter. The 31 heirs received hundreds of millions, mostly in stocks, in a new successor company, James Campbell Corporation LLC, which has approximately $1.46 billion in real estate holdings.

For the Campbell heirs, Billy Kenoi's entire campaign budget would be pocket change. Campbell heir/Kenoi donor James Shingle, for instance, received $100 million when the estate dissolved.
But the heirs' generosity is hampered by
Hawai'i's campaign spending law, which limits contributions by an "individual or entity" to $4,000 per election period.

"An individual and any general partnership in which the individual is a partner shall be treated as one person," the law states.

Of course, stockholders are not exactly the same thing as partners. The Journal called the Hawai'i Campaign Spending Commission to see what they made of the Campbell heirs' cumulative contribution.

"To the extent that they're making an individual decision, that's fine," a staff attorney told us. "To the extent that they're huddling, they may have to register as a campaign spending committee."
We asked him if a situation like this would be something that the Campaign Spending Commission would investigate.

"We don't go on fishing expeditions," he said.

We later spoke to Barbara Wong, the commission's executive director.

"As long as it's their own money and it's in their own name, it's okay," she said.

We pointed out that this was allowing a single family to exert massive influence on the outcome of a local election.

"Sometimes you have candidates that are individually wealthy, and they can spend a million on their campaign," she countered, and pointed out that that was legal, too.

The Campbell Estate/James Campbell Co. has been diversifying its assets to mainland commercial properties in recent years, but remains a powerful force in the local real estate scene. It is best known for developing the "Second City" of Kapolei on O'ahu. On this island, the group is famous (or infamous) for acquiring the rainforest of Wao Kele O Puna in a land swap with the state in order to pursue geothermal development in the tract-a move bitterly opposed by Native Hawaiians and environmentalists. One result of that battle was a landmark court decision that confirmed Native Hawaiian gathering rights on private land, including Campbell Estate's holdings.
The company put the rainforest up for sale after the geothermal venture didn't work out; the entire tract was acquired last year by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The Campbell Company’'s Web site lists no major remaining holdings on this island, but the Campbell heirs individually still own at least nine properties on this island—mostly in Kona and Ka'u.

Billy Kenoi maintains that he's running a clean campaign.

"My strategy is real simple. Talk to people from the heart, treat everybody with Aloha. Setting a goal, keeping things simple, and not even thinking about money," he told the Journal. He said he voluntarily resigned his position in the Kim administration because "I felt it was inappropriate to wage a political campaign and use your office for benefit."

He said that the Campbell heirs became aware of him because he was volunteering as a motivational speaker with a scholarship program for students at Leeward O'ahu High School. His years as a lawyer there, he said, helped him to raise funds from the O'ahu legal community. He said that the figures in his campaign report were skewed toward O'ahu donations because he held his first fundraiser there.

Kenoi said that if he won and one of the Campbell heirs approached him about a matter related to one of their properties, they would get no special favors.
"One, they wouldn't. And two, that would be ludicrous to think that a campaign contribution buys a favor or a promise," he told the Journal.

But that notion was not so ludicrous in the recent past. During the 1990s, companies such as Wilson Okamoto, 1250 Oceanside Partners, and Waste Management were among the heaviest contributors to mayoral and council campaigns on this island. 1250 Oceanside Partners prevailed upon then-mayor Steve Yamashiro and the County Council to approve rezoning for its controversial Hokulia golf course development, which was later successfully challenged in court as an illegal use of agricultural-zoned land. Waste Management got a multi-decade contract to run the county's Kona-side landfill.

Under such circumstances, "special favors" and quid-pro-quo agreements aren't needed to meet the contributors' ends. If a big company pumps money into the campaign of a like-minded candidate and that candidate wins, the candidate will generally take a position that benefits the donor.

Other big fish
Despite Kenoi's protestation that the "ludicrous" possibility that big contributors could buy an election, his mentor, Harry Kim, saw it differently. When Kim first ran for mayor, he pledged not to accept contributions larger than $100.

Nobody's following Kim's pledge this year. Higa, especially, is relying almost exclusively on big donors. He reported that only three people gave less than $500, and 13 gave $1,000 or more. Among his top donors are Ken Fujiyama ($3,500), who owns the Naniloa Volcanoes Resort in Hilo and leases on Volcano House in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Others include Volcano House Manager Lee Harlow ($4,000); Honolulu retiree Stanley H. Uyehara ($3,100), plumber Calvin Masaoka ($4,000), and David, Jackie and Wayne DeLuz, who each gave $1,000.

Even State Sen. Lorraine Inouye and Councilmember Angel Pilago have accepted $1,000 contributions-but the ratios of big donor/small donor and local/off-island are far different than for Kenoi or Higa.

Inouye's is by far the most grassroots-based of the four candidates who filed financial reports. Her campaign has raised $18,0475, of which only $1,750 are from off-island. Her report listed 43 donors who gave $250 or less, and only two who gave a thousand dollars or more. Her campaign actually has more than twice as many donors as Higa's, even though Higa's donors gave him nearly twice as much money.

Thirteen of Pilago's donors gave $250 or less, and only seven gave $1,000 or more. Pilago has raised a total of $15, 027, $2,250 of which were from off-island

Both Pilago and Inouye are far behind Kenoi and Higa in the money race. But as Harry Kim demonstrated, sometimes money isn't everything.

Additional reporting by Leah Gouker

Click here

Monday, October 27, 2008

Archive--No Child Left Behind

From the Hawaii Island Journal, 2003:

No School Left Ahead?

Is the federal “No Child Left Behind” Program helping local schools or damaging them?

by Alan D. McNarie

“Most of us celebrated the turn of the century on January 1, 2000. But for America’s children, the turn of the century came on January 8, 2002,” began the letter from U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige to the American public.

Paige, whose letter appears on the Department of Education Web site ( was referring to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the controversial federal education initiative that President George W. Bush signed into law on January 8, 2002. NCLB, Paige claims, “will invest in successful public education instead of continuing to fund a failing system. The new law will give states more flexibility on how they spend their education dollars. In return, it requires them to set standards for student achievement, and hold students, teachers and other educators accountable for results.”

The bill’s supporters hope that it will finally force improvement in the nation’s – and the state’s – school systems. But the new law’s detractors fear that it is actually adding a nightmarish new bureaucratic burden for the schools to shoulder, without providing adequate funding to pay for it.

Eight Out of 50 Schools Pass

Under NCLB, every school in the country would be measured annually against a stringent national checklist. Those schools that failed to meet the checklist’s 47 different Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) criteria would be classified as “In Good Standing, Conditional.” Failure to meet the criteria for two years in row would reduce the school’s status to “School Improvement Year 1,” forcing the school to adopt a two-year improvement plan and giving parents at least the theoretical right to pull their children from the school and send them to another with “Good Standing” or “Good Standing – Conditional” status. Three bad years in a row would demote the school to “School Improvement Year 2” and force it to offer tutoring to economically disadvantaged students. Four years of failure in a row would lead to “Corrective Action” status, forcing staff and curriculum changes; five years of inadequate progress would lead to “Planning for Restructuring,” under which drastic measures could be introduced, including replacing most of the school staff and/or conversion of the public school to a privately-run or charter school.

Nearly three years later, Hawai’i’s schools are feeling the weight of the new program’s stringent standards. Many schools in the Federal Government’s Title I Program, which provides extra aid to schools with high percentages of students from low-income families, have already found themselves assigned to “Planning for Restructuring” status based on their past records of testing. Of the Big Island’s 50 schools, 32 failed to meet NCLB’s Annual Yearly Progress requirements last year; 12 schools are already in Planning for Restructuring. Only eight have earned unconditional Good Standing – and half of those schools are small charter or laboratory schools. None of the island’s high schools met this year’s AYP standards. Over a vast swath of the island’s southern coast, from Honaunau in South Kona through all of Pahala in Ka`u, none of the schools have made even conditional good standing.

Doomed to Failure?

According to the Federal DOE Web site, the program’s annual “report cards” on each school are based on a number of factors, including “student academic achievement disaggregated by subgroups,” “comparison of students at basic, proficient, and advanced levels of academic achievement,” “graduation rates,” “professional qualifications of teachers,” “percentages of students not tested,” and “whether the school has been identified as ‘in need of improvement.’” The 37 benchmarks include Language Arts/Reading and Math proficiency scores of each grade in Grades 3-8, as well as the percentage of proficient scores among students classified as “learning disabled,” students who speak English as a second language, and lower income students in the Free and Reduced Lunch program. The students in the last three groups are expected to reach the same percentage of efficiency as their peers in the general population.

“Testing tells parents, communities, educators and school boards which schools are doing well. If a school takes a challenging population and achieves great results, testing will show that. If a school is allowing certain groups to fall behind year after year, testing will expose that, too,” contends the Web site’s description of the program.

But some of those charged with creating and administering those tests believe that they’re based on a flawed concept that may lead to more harm than good. One of the program’s critics is Mike Heim of the Hawai‘i Department of Education’s Planning and Evaluation Branch.

“Among my peers, we call this [the NCLB’s testing structure] a fully conjunctive model, which is a fancy way of saying that each and every condition must be met at the same time,” explains Heim. He notes that a school may meet or exceed expectations in most of the 37 categories, but still be rated unsatisfactory if it fails to make the grade in even one category.

“To expect schools to be nearly perfect in 37 different criteria all at the same time, is, I believe, unrealistic,” he contends. “In real life, people behave in a compensatory fashion. More often than not, in everyday life, people can make up for a weakness, by compensating for it with strengths in another area.”

The same, he believes, may be true of organizations made up of people: they’re never strong in every area, but compensate for weaknesses in one area with exceptional strengths in others. Students who experience a weak fourth-grade curriculum may excel under an exceptional fifth grade teacher; a high school may need improvement in its geometry classes, but have an exceptional science program.

The school status assigned by NCLB’s Annual Progress Reports can stigmatize the entire school, based on the school’s weakest link, Heim contends.

“It’s almost as if somebody put this thing together without thinking about what happens to the people that comprise this organization...and perhaps without thinking through very clearly the effects that these negative labels will have on people,” he suspects. “I wonder if the people that designed this thought that humiliation would be motivating. I’m not so sure that it is.” He notes that some school principals have told him, “It seems we’re doomed to failure.”

Not all school officials are so pessimistic. John Thatcher, who manages Connections Charter School in Hilo, believes that overall, NCLB will probably be “more beneficial than detrimental” to his and other charter schools. He notes that all charter schools are already living under the sword that NCLB places over the heads of other public schools:

“If a charter school doesn’t fulfill those obligations, it loses its charter,” he notes. “NCLB basically extends that principle to all public schools.”

Right now, he believes, the NCLB testing benchmarks are set so low that they ought to be achievable, even if there are 37 of them. For the program’s first three years, he says, the benchmarks require that only 30 percent of the students in each category need to be proficient at reading, and only 10 percent must be proficient at math.

“If a school only has 30 percent of their population reading at grade level, they’re not doing something right,” Hatcher maintains.

One point on which Heim and Thatcher agree, however, is that increasing numbers of schools are likely to receive failing NCLB report cards in the future.

Thatcher points out that for the next three years, the benchmarks for percentage of students in each group who are reading up to their grade level will rise to 44 percent, and the math proficiency benchmark will rise in a similar fashion. The standards will continue to rise for the next decade. According to the Federal DOE Web site, every student in the country is expected to be proficient in math and language skills by the 2012-13 school year.

“Unless there are really, really major changes, we’re going to see a lot more schools that are going to be failing,” predicts Thatcher.

Heim has an even gloomier prognosis.

“In 3-5 years, virtually every school in the country is going to be labeled in need of improvement,” he believes.

The Numbers Game

Some critics point out another problem with the NCLB testing regimen: statistical validity. Back in the heyday of “grading on the curve” – the practice of assigning grades so that the majority of students received a ‘C’ and smaller numbers received ‘A’s and ‘F’s, producing a statistical bell-shaped curve on a graph – dissenters pointed out that to produce a statistically valid “natural” bell curve, a class would have to contain at least 400 students. A similar problem haunts the NCLB testing regimen. The NCLB rules only require testing of 30 students to obtain a benchmark sample. In some smaller Hawaii schools, especially, there simply aren’t enough in a given class to produce even this limited sample.

In the short run, notes State DOE curriculum specialist Kathy Kawaguchi, this has worked to the advantage of the smaller schools, which have been measured only on the benchmarks for which they have the required minimum numbers

“It was rare that all 37 components applied to every single school,” she notes. “If you didn’t have at least 30 in that particular class that would be an N.A. [not applicable] for that particular component.”

But that will change in the future, she says, whether the schools have adequate numbers or not.

“By 2005 or 2006, they would take whatever data they have and compute the AYP for that school,” she notes. “At some point, you have to hold all the schools accountable.”

Thatcher knows, from personal experience, the problems of working with assessments based on small numbers. “If you look at the latest report on us, you’ll see that we missed out by one point with our economically disadvantaged group,” he notes. “One child who was listed as a fifth grader was actually a 4th grader....I’m asking them to look at it again.”

He says he is “not going to worry too much about it, because I know our test scores are going to be better this year.” But he adds, “When you have small populations, it’s very skewed. When you’re basing everything on percentage points, and you have a very small number of kids, then one kid can have a big effect on your percentage points.”

But for parents trying to find the best school for their children, this statistical problem has very practical implications. Two of the claims that the Federal DOE repeatedly makes about the NCLB program is that it will provide scientifically valid tools to measure a school’s progress and that, in Paige’s words, it “will give parents new opportunities to make sure their children receive the very best education possible.” But of the handful of Hawai`i Island schools that made unconditional “Good Standing” this year, the majority may be there not because they had met all 47 benchmarks, but because there was not enough data to measure whether the school had met all the benchmarks. And unless parents look at all the benchmarks, not just the overall AYP rating, they may pass over a school that would function very well for their particular children.

Back to Busing?

Another much-trumpeted claim is that NCLB will offer parents of children in deficient schools the option of moving their children to better schools. Ironically, a conservative Republican administration is now claiming that some schools are inherently unequal, and is advocating busing as a solution.

“If a school fails to make adequate yearly progress for two years and continues to be identified as in need of improvement after receiving special help and resources, then students are eligible to transfer to another public school with transportation provided,” claims the Federal DOE Web site.

In reality, though, that claim may be exaggerated. And if it were true, it could create as many problems as it solved.

Consider the case of Ka`u, for instance. Both of the district’s schools, with a collective total of around 900 students, are currently in “Planning for Restructuring” status – the poorest possible category. The nearest school in “Good Standing” is tiny Volcano School of Arts and Sciences, a charter school with a current capacity of only 105 students.

“We could take some of the kids,” says Ted Persig, the school’s business manager. But he adds, “We are completely full in some grade levels, and nearly full in others.”

If the Federal DOE gets its way, his school might have to accept more children than he would like.

“There was a policy letter from Secretary Paige to State Superintendents last fall. We all just sort of dropped our jaws when we read it,” recounts Mike Heim. “It said that the state could not use capacity as a reason to refuse public school choice.... Somehow, we’d have to find the zillions of dollars to enable that public school choice.”

In other words, the state could not refuse to transfer a student from a poorly rated school to a school in “Good standing,” even if all such schools were full. The results, ironically, could knock the schools in “Good Standing” out of out of their standing, with an influx of students that the schools don’t have the physical capacity or the personnel to serve.

Fortunately and/or unfortunately, however, the federal DOE in reality has shown more flexibility than its leader admits – and parents may not have all the freedom of choice that Bush Administration press releases have claimed. According to Kawaguchi, for instance, federal officials have already compromised with the state on the issue of Molokai, where none of the schools have measured up to par. It will allow Molokai students will receive extra tutoring help, rather than forcing the state to fly them to Maui.

Kawaguchi also maintains that according to the federal rules, not every student in a school that is out of NCLB compliance will be allowed to transfer. Instead, a priority system may be set up, giving the first chance of transferring to students who are in academic trouble and those who come from lower-income households.

Thatcher contends that the State Department of Education, in fact, has shown little enthusiasm about even preparing to move students from deficient schools.

“There are NCLB grants that provide for transportation,” he says. “The state could have applied for them. I even offered to write the grant a couple of years ago. I tried to put together a team to write the grant. But the State DOE just kind of dragged their feet....”

Thatcher also accuses some local schools of concealing their capacity to take on more students.

“In some schools I’ve seen, there were four or five classrooms just being used for storage space for old computers,” he recounts, “and the administrators were saying that those rooms were being used for technology resources. And that was a lie.”

But even if space in a better school were available and buses or vouchers were provided, the realities of geography, money and time would still limit the choices of some parents. Some Big Island families live more than 50 miles from the nearest grade school in Good Standing, and nearly 90 miles from the nearest high school in Good Standing-Conditional. They would have to choose between sending their children to a low-rated nearby school, or forcing them to endure several hours a day on a school bus.

More Mandates than Money

Another common criticism of NCLB is that the Bush Administration has passed out more rhetoric and rules than money and support.

Heim calls the program an “under-funded mandate.” The money his office gotten for the new testing program, for instance, might have funded multiple choice tests, he says, but not the battery of tests required to determine reading and math skills, which usually require written paragraphs and mathematical proofs.

The same sorts of problems are surfacing not just in the school bureaucracy, but in the schools themselves.

“You’re told to do X, Y and Z, and suddenly you find out that there are no funds available to do X, Y and Z,” complains Persig.

Lack of operating funds, compounded with the state’s budget shortfalls, hiring freezes, and the NCLB’s requirements for rapid implementation – Tawaguchi points out that the state had to have a “consolidation plan” for NCLB in place by June of 1992, months before the USDOE had even supplied its guidelines for such a plan – have driven some educators to the edge.

"[I] myself and a number of other people don’t want to go through another year like we’ve just been through, or else we won’t be here,” says Heim. “Either we’re going to die, or we’re going to walk away from the job.”

The USDOE Web site points out that the NCLB does give the schools greater flexibility with the federal funds that they already receive. But it also places new demands on those funds. The law requires schools that up to 5 percent of Title I funds – money earmarked to help schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students – be used by schools with unsatisfactory ratings to ship their students to better schools.

The law has also hit the schools hard in other ways. Persig notes that one of the schools most experienced teachers had to return to school herself to take additional courses, in order to meet newly tightened teacher certification requirements. He finds it ironic that the law is depriving his school of teachers who are achieving the results the NCLB demands.

“It eliminates the local control, which is ironic for the charter schools, because there is accountability built in,” he comments. “The idea of a charter school is that you come up for renewal periodically, and your accountability for the performance of the students will be reviewed at that time.”

Discontent with the new program has started to reach the ears of Hawai‘i’s legislators. Representative Ed Case recently sent a letter to local school administrators, seeking suggestions on how to reform the school reform law.

The educators that the Journal talked to had several suggestions, including more small schools with higher teacher-to-student ratios, more emphasis on student contentment in rating surveys – “If a student likes being in school, he’s going to learn,” maintains Thatcher – and a greater emphasis on children’s total environment, not just the classroom. And of course, a more realistic testing regimen.

“We have students who come to school hungry. We have students to come to school unable to study because their parents had such a horrendous fight last night that they’re terribly distraught. We who come tos chool not knowing where to sleep the next night,” notes Heim. “That all affects their class performance.”

Some DOE officials maintain that the school system isn’t in quite as bad a shape as its publicity warrants – Heim notes that overall, the various testing criteria for school performance are sending out a “mixed signal of what’s going on here.” Compared to other states, he says, Hawai‘i’s NCLB results are about “the middle of the pack.”

But even the program’s critics tend to admit that its goals of better schools and universal education are difficult to argue with, and acknowledge a wave of discontent with public education as it is – especially in Hawai‘i. When this magazine’s predecessor, Ka`u Landing, published a three part series about the Hawai`i education system in 1995, it provoked a flood of letters and calls from distraught parents, each with his or her own horror story about trying to deal with unresponsive teachers and administrators. In the years since then, parents and educators have tried a host of reforms: charter schools, the Felix vs.Waihe`e lawsuit, and Community Children’s Councils, to name a few. Despite those efforts, when the Journal held a reader poll earlier this year, island residents voted the DOE the dubious honor of “Best Example of a Dysfunctional Government Agency.” Whatever the flaws of NCLB, it represents a real wave of public discontent.

“I think we have to go back to Congress again, and ask them to develop broader solution,” believes Heim. “...We can’t do it alone. If we’re expected to do it alone, we are doomed to failure.”