Looking more like a top-secret national security document, blacked-out state Board of Education meeting minutes yesterday revealed that most board members voted to fire James Shon as head of the charter schools.
The board released the minutes of its Sept. 7 meeting, when Shon was fired, but blacked out details on why he was fired, saying it remains a personnel matter.
In an executive session, the board met with the Attorney General's Office on an Office of Information Practices' request to release the minutes of Shon's firing during a closed-door meeting.
The OIP opinion asked the board to reveal "the motions made and the votes cast by individual members" on the controversial firing, which angered many in the charter school community.
"We believe it was incumbent that the board first consult with the attorney general on a matter affecting the privacy interests of an employee," said board Chairman Randall Yee. "As a board, it is imperative that we proceed on any matter responsibly and prudently in serving the public interest."
According to the board minutes, member Mary Cochran moved not to retain Shon as executive director of the Charter School Administrative Office, and Garrett Toguchi seconded the motion.
Vice Chairwoman Karen Knudsen then remarked that "having known Dr. Shon for a long time," she felt it was "a difficult decision for some members to make."
Board members Darwin Ching, Cochran, Maggie Cox, Breene Harimoto, Lei Ahu Isa, Knudsen, Denise Matsumoto, Shirley Robinson, second Vice Chairman Herbert Watanabe and Yee voted for firing Shon.
Paul Vierling voted no, and Cec Heftel and Toguchi abstained. The board then voted to give Shon a severance pay of one month, with a chance to resign that night.
The minutes are 3 1/2 pages long, with dozens of paragraphs blacked out. It wasn't exactly what Hawaii Charter Schools Network President John Thatcher had in mind.
"I want to know how they have the authority to give you something like this," said Thatcher, also principal for the Connections Public Charter School in Hilo. "A lot of it goes back to their knowing that OIP is not going to do anything about it."
Agencies have historically been able to ignore OIP requests, because it lacks enforcement power. Bills that would have enabled OIP to fine agencies for not complying were killed in the last state legislative session, but are expected to be reintroduced.
Thatcher said he hopes this incident will cause the OIP enforcement bills to be passed into law.
"This even makes people more suspicious," said Thatcher, pointing at the blacked-out paragraphs. "What did they say here? Why are they afraid? This looks like they're trying to hide something here."
The board's charter schools committee yesterday also discussed a charter school review panel, and setting the job description for the next executive director.
Board member Harimoto stated his discomfort in rushing this through. Cochran said the newly elected board members should be given a chance to set the job description, since they will be involved in the evaluation process as well.
Interim charter schools Executive Director Maunalei Love also said she wanted to revise some of the criteria.
"The safest thing to do is we really need to look at the language of the statute," Cochran said.