Tuesday, January 9, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 9, 2001

Schools appeal for cash

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

Previous stories:
Legislators balking at Felix decree costs
Schools chief challenges Hawai'i on commitment to education
Auditor assails lack of education budget control
State schools chief Paul LeMahieu yesterday urged lawmakers to save millions of dollars worth of programs left out of the governor’s executive budget, calling Hawaii’s schools "a system which badly needs investments in its foundation."

The governor and the Department of Education are in sharp disagreement over what the priorities for increased spending should be.

Gov. Ben Cayetano is recommending that the Legislature approve only 9 percent of the $164 million in increased spending which the department has requested.

Yesterday, education officials briefed leaders of the House Finance and Senate Ways and Means committees on the greatest gap between the two budgets in years.

State schools chief Paul LeMahieu says basic needs must come first.

Advertiser library photo • Oct. 19. 2000

"It’s going to be a tough year for the legislators to decide what the priorities are," said board Finance Committee Chairwoman Karen Knudsen.

LeMahieu told lawmakers of recent gains in student test scores and school safety records. He also spoke of the system’s shortfalls, including a lack of teachers and now principals.

And he challenged lawmakers not to jeopardize recent progress by withholding the money the system needs.

"One of the things I have voiced some concerns about is: With our certainly fragile but brightening financial picture, the urge may be to invest new resources in personal initiatives ... when, in fact, it is a system which badly needs investments in its foundation."

Cayetano’s budget does include items that are not priorities in the department’s budget, such as $27.5 million for computers.

The governor believes it is a priority to get computers into the classrooms so students can be exposed to new technologies, said his spokeswoman, Kim Murakawa. The goal is to provide one computer for every four students. The current ratio is one computer to every six students.

"The DOE appreciates the executive budget’s initiatives in accelerated computer and textbook funding, and recognizes the unquestionable value of such items to student learning," LeMahieu said. "However, we are deeply concerned about a number of severely underfunded and unfunded DOE-priority items from the (board’s) budget request."

The department had requested $76.3 million for fiscal year 2002 and $88.1 million for 2003. That is on top of its base budget of $1.2 billion, which includes existing staff positions and programs. Among the department’s priorities:

$34.5 million for health and safety initiatives, including school safety managers, expanded night security, classroom cleaners and restroom supplies.

The executive budget allows for about 5 percent of that request.

$86.9 million to comply with legal mandates for improved gender equity in sports, English as a second language, Hawaiian language immersion and staffing for new charter schools.

The executive budget provides for just under 6 percent of those requests.

$26.2 million for standards-based education, which is the department’s cornerstone for improving student achievement. It includes money for a School Leadership Program to identify and train new principals — 67 percent of the current work force will be eligible to retire in the next five years.

The executive budget provides no money for standards implementation.

$8.7 million for staffing, supplies, equipment and utilities at new schools.

The executive budget includes 95 percent of that request.

$8.1 million for other costs including a board ombudsman to resolve public complaints, and business managers for the largest school complexes to free up teachers and principals so they can spend more time on education issues.

The executive budget includes no money for these other requests.

"The governor’s budget did accommodate the critical needs of the department for such expenses as enrollment increases and new facilities," Murakawa said. "The department will always request more funding, but the administration does have the responsibility of balancing all of the needs of the state."

LeMahieu said the governor did include $10 million for department needs. However, the schools superintendent said, it won’t cover everything.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sen. Brian Taniguchi, (D-McCully, Moiliili, Manoa), acknowledged the hard decisions legislators face this session.

"If we don’t provide the resources to try and catch up, we’re going to be that much farther behind," he said.

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