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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 6, 2002

State auditor criticizes school support system

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

The Department of Education has hurried into a multi-million-dollar expansion of its Comprehensive Student Support System, resulting in a system that lacks accountability, has unclear costs and is difficult to implement, according to a report released yesterday by state Auditor Marion Higa's office.

The support system was created in 1994 as a reform model to make sure all students get the support they need to achieve academically. The reform model was being tested in parts of the state.

But as the state tried to meet the demands of the federal Felix consent decree, which ordered the state to improve its special education programs, it used the support system as a way to ramp up services across Hawai'i.

About $13 million was spent in the 2000, 01 fiscal year and 420 positions were allocated to support system positions.

But the audit said the additional positions weren't clearly defined and some staff members were not fully qualified.

Schools also were given inadequate direction, space and equipment for the support system, the audit found.

Principals had to find space on their campus for 273 student services coordinators, 252 educational assistants and other support staff suddenly assigned to their schools. Many of the new staff members ended up housed in libraries, hallways and closets on crowded campuses.

The audit said the department spent $12 million during the 2000-01 fiscal year for the student services coordinators and educational assistants without clearly defining their roles. Some principals used these coordinators for non-student-service functions, and most educational assistants who were supposed to be helping in the classrooms were instead used as clerical staff.

Schools have reported that not all school-based support staff were qualified for their duties. Also, staff members held overlapping jobs.

Difficulties with the Integrated Special Education System and the support system databases have resulted in incomplete data being used to assess the effectiveness of system, the audit said.

In a written response to the audit, Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said many of the report's recommendations are reasonable, and that the DOE has worked to better track the budget for student services and will issue a new manual on the support system.

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