Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 24, 2002

A-Plus cuts may mean fee increases

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

Despite an increase in overall spending on the state Department of Education next year, the new state budget dramatically cuts the A-Plus program, which may trigger fee increases for families with youngsters in the after-school program.

State schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said she is optimistic that the department will find money that can be transferred to cover the operating costs of A-Plus, which was given only enough money to operate through February. But Hamamoto said a fee increase is still a possibility.

At the same time, general treasury spending on the department's state and district administration grew by $1.8 million, for an increase of almost 7 percent.

Overall, the final draft of the budget boosts general treasury spending on education by about $26 million for the year beginning July 1, an increase of 2 percent from this year's levels, according to final budget worksheets released by the Legislature.

Hamamoto said the increase in the administration budget was to cover part of the cost of a new human resource computer system.

Greg Knudsen, DOE communications director, said the budget for district and statewide administration included $4.7 million for the new computers, which he said are "sorely needed."

"What you're seeing is the upgrading of the technology infrastructure to truly support our employees," Hamamoto said, noting that the DOE has been criticized for taking too long to get paychecks to employees. "We're doing operational upgrades that should have been done a long time ago."

Carol Nafus, president of the Hawai'i State Parent Teacher Student Association, said the state never seems to commit enough money to finance the school system.

"I'm very disappointed in how education was funded," she said. "We don't want monies to be taken out of any before- or after-school program or anything that was affecting the children. We do know, however, as far as technology, we have to be prepared for the future."

John Friedman, immediate past president of the state PTSA, said the organization doesn't think A-Plus should be first to be cut because educational research shows that good before- and after-school care can contribute significantly to children's overall school success.

After-school care programs may be especially important in Hawai'i, where many people are forced to work two and three jobs to support their families, he said.

Gov. Ben Cayetano proposed the $3.5 million cut to the A-Plus program, and lawmakers went along with the idea this spring as part of the larger effort to balance the state budget. That amounts to a 35 percent cut for A-Plus, which costs the state about $10 million a year.

The budget drafted by lawmakers this spring increases overall general treasury spending for the public school system from about $1.28 billion this year to more than $1.3 billion next year.

That does not include more than $75 million lawmakers set aside under separate bills for teacher and staff raises next year, meaning overall general treasury spending for education will increase by more than $100 million.

Education officials consider this to be a "budget cut" because lawmakers last year drafted a more generous budget for the 2002-2003 fiscal year that would have provided larger increases in education spending. Those spending plans were scaled back this year after Cayetano and lawmakers concluded the state did not have enough money.

Hamamoto also said spending more money on teacher and staff raises does not help school administrators, who need more money to buy books or computers.

The final version of the budget increased the "lump-sum" amount allocated for the schools themselves by $29 million, and boosted spending for the state and district administration by another $1.8 million, according to lawmakers' worksheets.

Spending for school support services, instructional support and other school support was trimmed by a combined total of $1.6 million from this year's level, according to the worksheets.

The largest cut of $3.5 million was imposed on the budget for school community service, which includes the A-Plus program.

Tallying up those changes shows that the overall education budget grew by nearly $26 million, but Knudsen said increases in fixed costs will more than eat away any increase in the total amount of money spent. Those costs include larger employee pension contributions, larger payments for employee health insurance premiums, and larger payments that must be made to repay money borrowed for school construction projects. Legislative staff estimated those costs will be $31 million more next year.

Hamamoto acknowledged that, overall, the state is paying more to run the system, but said it doesn't feel like it at the school level.

"Based on the fact that teachers have gotten a raise and they're getting a bonus, and school administrators are getting a raise, then the answer obviously will have to be yes," she said. "If you're asking are we spending more at the school level, not necessarily because the fixed costs have also gone up. Electricity, sewer, water, phone, repair and those kinds of fixed costs that you have increase because the cost of living has gone up."