Hawaii school building agency could be exempted from laws

HONOLULU — A proposal to create a new Hawaii state agency to build and renovate public schools is moving forward despite concerns the agency would be exempt from many legal safeguards.

The School Facilities Agency would be responsible for development, planning and construction of capital improvement projects at public schools, taking over that work from the Department of Education, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

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The agency would be exempt from all county ordinances — except building codes — and from state laws focusing on historic preservation, environmental protection, budgeting, and civil service.

The facilities agency would also be exempt from parts of the procurement code and the Sunshine Law, which governs how state and county board conduct official business.

The agency would be allowed to make and execute contracts, acquire or condemn property, construct or reconstruct any project, hold title, sell, lease, and dispose of any project. It could also issue its own bond financing and enter into public-private partnerships.

The governor would appoint the agency’s executive director and five members of an advisory School Facilities Board, which would also include the schools superintendent and a Board of Education representative.

Proponents see the agency as a way to expedite building modern schools and redeveloping old properties without bureaucratic delay.

The bill is poised for passage by the full Senate and has broad support in the House, with 45 of 51 representatives listed as sponsors of a companion measure.

The proposal also received backing from Democratic Gov. David Ige and organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Bank of Hawaii, Hui for Excellence in Education, Pacific Resource Partnership, and Aloha United Way.

The proposal came as a surprise to schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and has raised concerns from the State Procurement Office, the Budget and Finance Department, public worker unions, and watchdog organizations.

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Kishimoto said neither she nor the Board of Education was included in developing the proposal.

“Anything that happens with the public education system needs to include its chief educational officer,” Kishimoto said. “Otherwise you undermine the public educational system as author of its design and its innovation, and you undermine the kids, families and communities.”

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