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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 5, 2002

Libraries may face closures, cut hours

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Some Hawai'i public libraries could shut down and statewide services either ended or sharply curtailed under budget cut scenarios considered yesterday by the Board of Education.

State Librarian Virginia Lowell told board members yesterday the impact a 3 to 5 percent budget cut would have on the statewide system.

"The library system will no longer be able to reach all residents of the state with library services," Lowell said.

Under the worst-case scenario of a 5 percent, or $1 million cut, the library system would close some branches and impose a maximum five-day work week and eight-hour workday at all libraries. Those eight hours would include staff work when the libraries are closed, further eroding operating hours.

Legislators are asking the public libraries and other state agencies to consider how to trim their budgets in the wake of a weakened post-Sept. 11 state economy.

The governor has proposed dipping into the Hurricane Relief Fund to prevent further budget trimming, meaning cuts likely would be restricted to 1 or 2 percent. But legislators appear reluctant to tap the fund, and that could spell larger cuts.

Even under a 2 percent, or $424,000 cut, additions to the library collection would be curtailed, people would experience longer lines for reference services, Internet access and checkout, and there would be longer waits for reserved materials, Lowell said.

With a 3 percent, or $636,000 cut, the library would eliminate all bookmobile service and curtail some children's programs.

The library would have to close branches starting with a cut of 4 percent, or $849,000, and would eliminate at least eight full-time staff positions.

Unless the library system is told that it will definitely experience the 4 or 5 percent cuts, it won't come up with a list of libraries to close, Lowell said.

"There's going to be an uproar," predicted board member Lex Brodie, who advocated spreading any cuts across the system instead.

Also on the line is the Kapolei Public Library, which is supposed to open to the public in July and serve the growing community in Leeward O'ahu.

Independent of its regular operating budget, the library system has asked for $1 million this year and $1.7 million next year to pay for staff positions, cover operating costs such as utilities and supplies and to build a startup collection of library books and materials.

But if the Legislature does not finance the Kapolei library separately from the rest of the system, it likely will not open. Additionally, if the Board of Education has to choose between opening the new library and shutting down an existing library, the Kapolei building could be left empty.

"They need to see the magnitude of that they are proposing," board member Donna Ikeda said. "That could save the system from the kinds of cuts we are considering."

The Department of Education, which also faces cuts of 3 to 5 percent, would have to cut positions — including possibly furloughing teachers — and eliminate some programs over the next two years.

Hawaiian studies, girls junior varsity sports, science education, the gifted and talented program and English as a second language are among the dozens of programs that would be slashed.

School-based budgets, though, would be left intact so principals could have some say over which programs stay at their campus.

The DOE could lose $7.1 million this year and up to $35 million next year, but the department is seeking $52 million in additional financing, arguing that it has been under financed for too long.

"We have been running on fumes," said Superintendent Pat Hamamoto. "What we'd like to have is a full gas tank."

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.