BOE requests $60 million increase
By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big island Bureau
HONOKA'A, Hawai'i The state Board of Education voted last night to request an increase in the Department of Education's operating budget for the two next years by more than $60 million, despite being told keep spending unchanged.
The request for increases of $32.8 billion for 2003-2004 and $28.1 million in 2004-2005 goes to the Department of Budget and Finance today the deadline for submitting budget requests.
The board voted unanimously to seek the increases after receiving a recommendation to do so from budget committee head Karen Knudsen.
Board chairman Herbert Watanabe said as the vote was taken, "We'll open their eyes on this one."
He and others said the increases are needed to meet costs of charter school operations, transportation, and health and safety.
The board also voted to seek $90 million a year for facility repairs and development, including new schools on O'ahu and Maui, and to require sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to take science.
After years of disappointing test scores, Hawai'i middle school students have to take science in all three years under the new Board of Education policy.
Science is now required only in the sixth and seventh grades.
Middle students also will have to take and pass social studies in all three grades as well as mathematics and language arts.
Currently, they take social studies both years but are required to pass only one class to advance to high school.
The policy will take effect in the 2004-2005 school year.
Hawai'i scores consistently among the lowest of states in the National Assessment of Educational Progress science test.
In 2000, nearly two-thirds of eighth-graders scored below basic proficiency in science, and nearly half of the state's fourth-graders scored below basic levels.
Educators see the scores as a clear message that more needs to be done to improve science education.
A 1996 survey showed that only about 30 percent of Hawai'i middle-school students were taking science, compared with more than 90 percent nationally.
School board member Denise Matsumoto said the policy change is part of raising academic expectations and giving students a better foundation for high school.
Under the provisions of their contract, teachers at each school may choose whether to have six or seven periods in a day. Matsumoto said each school would have to decide how to accommodate the additional science class. Only a few schools around the state already have adjusted their schedules to allow for more science classes.
The BOE's request for more money would help cover the costs of new facilities, multi-track schools, union bargaining requirements and class size limits for the youngest grades.
Although the DOE is requesting the additional $60.9 million, officials say they have actually identified additional needs totaling $43 million in 2004 and $48 million in 2005 to meet health and safety requirements, legal mandates, student transportation and the requirements of the federal act known as No Child Left Behindt.
The DOE plans to look at its existing funding to try to trim costs to meet some of the additional needs.
Among the top projects board members want in the governor's capital improvements budget are Maui Lani Elementary School and the first phase of Royal Kunia Elementary School.
Both communities have seen an increasing number of students as young families have moved into those areas.
The DOE is also asking for capital improvement money to help with fire protection, asbestos and lead paint removal, play equipment safety and accessibility, gender equity and cesspool removal.
The DOE can expect to receive about $45 million per year for construction, but has requested about $90 million each year in hopes that the Legislature will fund additional projects as it has in the past.
Advertiser staff writer Jennifer Hiller contributed to this report.