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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, December 26, 2001

This time, Legislature, repair our schools

Gov. Ben Cayetano is gearing up to once again ask the Legislature for $1 billion to help clear the backlog of repair and maintenance projects in Hawai'i schools and other state facilities.

In addition to fixing time-worn structures, he says the massive overhaul would create new jobs and boost the economy. "We need to make a big investment now," he says.

We couldn't agree more. This is a problem the Legislature is going to have to throw money at in leaps and bounds, not dribs and drabs.

Many years of deferring maintenance to save money has saddled the state with a backlog of more than $600 million worth of repair and maintenance projects in the schools, including more than $180 million in classroom renovation, another $82 million in restroom renovation and $72 million in roofing.

While the Department of Education and school principals are responsible for selecting and prioritizing projects, the process frequently gets bogged down in the Department of Accounting and General Services and with legislative meddling.

Instead of throwing up bureaucratic obstacles to much-needed repairs, why not give individual schools their own "slush funds" so they can fix their plumbing, furniture and roofs? Or go with some of the new legislative proposals floating out there, such as giving individual counties the authority to conduct repair and maintenance at schools; or giving school complexes autonomy to manage their own repair and maintenance money.

Regardless of who is to blame, the rate of repairs and maintenance at our public schools has been slow and sporadic. That's why the first step of The Advertiser's proposed "Marshall Plan" to improve Hawai'i's faltering public school system calls for spiffing up our aging institutions.

Because in the end, how can we expect our state institutions to succeed, let alone function, when they're plagued with such handicaps as leaky roofs, termite damage, crumbling water lines and faulty plumbing and wiring? This has been going on for way too long.