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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, December 24, 2003

School repairs require more than money

It's a measure of the relatively poor state of repair in our public schools that it takes $50 million a year just to keep the huge backlog of projects from growing even larger.

Overall, there is some $675 million worth of repair and maintenance projects on the books today.

Thus it is encouraging that Gov. Linda Lingle has asked legislators for $90 million for school repairs in the upcoming supplementary budget. If the money is approved — and if it is properly spent — it will at least cut into the backlog.

But even the $90 million falls short of what is truly needed for our public school system: A massive "Marshall Plan" assault on our crumbling school infrastructure.

There are all kinds of ideas floating around to "reform" or improve our public schools. Most of these ideas focus on governance, curriculum and organizational structure.

But even as that debate rages, there is no disagreement that a quality physical plant is crucial to quality education.

There is no excuse for classrooms that are dangerously termite-ridden, don't have the wiring needed to provide computer access or are without air conditioning or fans in the summer.

Simply approving the $90 million is only half the battle, however. Getting the money spent in a timely manner and on projects that make the most sense to individual schools is crucial.

Previous attempts to hurry up the repair process have been stymied by the inability of the state to get the projects through the bureaucratic pipeline. Lawmakers should consider allowing individual school administrators to contract out on their own for routine repair and maintenance projects without going through the central accounting system.

In fact, it may be time to appoint a school repair "czar" with powers to cut through the red tape, coordinate work across departments and agencies and get the money where it belongs: in our schools.