If Tuesday’s League of Women Voters of Hawaii County candidates’ forum featuring state Senate District 3 and 4 candidates is any indication, education is emerging as one of the issues that will shape the election season.
“Improving educational opportunities for students is the No. 1 way for us to break the cycle of poverty,” said Sen. Josh Green, a Captain Cook Democrat seeking re-election in the redrawn Senate 3rd district, which is generally from Kaiminani Drive to Naalehu. He called for smaller class sizes, more physical education and said he supports teacher evaluations as long as teachers have some input. He also touted his ability to secure a special appropriation to help provide transportation for Big Isle students, “so no child has to walk to school to get an education,” he said.
Green has no Democratic opposition in the Aug. 11 primary but he will face nonpartisan candidate Michael Last of Naalehu and one of two Republicans — John Totten or Jeff LaFrance, both of Kailua-Kona — in the Nov. 6 General Election.
All three were critical of the area’s schools.
“I hear people say ‘Our school system is broken,’” LaFrance said at the forum that drew about 50 potential voters to Hualalai Academy. He lamented educational decisions being made on Oahu and called for more control coming from this island.
“Local school boards would help tremendously,” LaFrance, a real estate broker, said.
Totten, a retired Hawaii County tax appraiser, said the Big Island’s education system is lacking.
“There’s something wrong with our education system around here,” he said.
Last, who said he’s still gathering knowledge through continuing education, supported teachers being assessed.
“Just as the students are evaluated, so should the instructors,” Last said.
When asked about local school boards, Last warned that one of the possible unintended circumstances of doing so could be higher taxes to pay for education.
District 4, which generally encompasses the area from Honolii Stream north of Hilo to Kaiminani Drive, Green Party candidate Kelly Greenwell favored splitting schools into a two-tiered system that brings power to local boards while keeping the state infrastructure.
Greenwell, a former North Kona Councilman, will face either Sen. Malama Solomon, D-Honokaa, Waimea, North Hilo, or Hilo’s Lorraine Inouye, a former Hawaii County mayor and state senator, in the general election.
Solomon, an educator by profession, touted her support of a college in West Hawaii.
“Palamanui is critical to our future,” said Waimea’s Solomon, who currently represents District 1 but because of the changes spurred by the 2010 census, finds herself living in the new District 4. She was appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in 2010 to replace Dwight Takamine, who had been appointed by Abercrombie to run the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
Solomon was critical of the Department of Education’s attempts to cut bus funding.
“(The DOE) should find the money, they should reduce their bureaucracy,” she said.
Inouye, who left her Senate seat to run unsuccessfully for Hawaii County mayor in 2008, said she was disturbed by the costs of transportation.
“But that’s what happens when you have a monopoly,” she said. She said she’d like to know where the department’s funds were going, calling for an audit of the DOE.
The candidates also spoke at length about alternative energy and also discussed Kona coffee, tourism, job creation, infrastructure, food security, taxes, campaign financing, sunshine laws and health care during the forum that featured a two-minute opening statement from each candidate followed by rapid fire, one-minute questions for candidates followed by optional 30-second responses from other candidates.