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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 20, 2003

Fighting over the education dollars

By Richard A. Weigel
'Aiea resident

When power and wealth are distributed unfairly, the result leaves the have-nots battling each other over the crumbs left by the power elite.

Letter writer Clifford Wassman (Feb. 12) used the term "crab-in-the-bucket mentality" to describe how Hawaiians of differing blood quantums have been pitted against one another for the benefits doled by the U.S. settler culture.

But, on the paper's same pages, the people of Mililani and Wai'anae verbally sparred over the inadequate education facilities, including portable classrooms that have become the rule in the Department of Education. State and county officials even tell us that new schools are intentionally built undersized, and portables are the solution to "temporary surpluses" of students — despite some having now schooled multiple generations of families.

To understand the deeper political foundations of how Hawai'i's public schools have been shortchanged and have deteriorated so badly, one must look at the basic planning and funding dynamics of what University of California sociologist Harvey Molotch calls "the growth machine" and the government practice known as "growth subsidies."

Parents and taxpayers across Hawai'i have somehow become convinced they must accept portable classrooms and inadequate school funding.

When new "master-planned communities" sprout up in growing regions like the 'Ewa Plain and Central O'ahu, developers know they can avoid the cost of such amenities in their "communities" as schools, libraries, regional parks, police and fire stations, or many other public services, since legislators will happily bill the cost to taxpayers at large.

Research into the fiscal impact of this system shows the public costs simply for new schools forced by residential construction on open space or agricultural land amounts conservatively to $25,000 to $30,000 for each housing unit built. This estimate subtracts developers' own determination of their "fair share" of the cost — the bare donation of unimproved land amounting to 5 percent of total costs.

Beyond the big question environmentalists have about the loss of green space, views and agricultural self-sufficiency, we must begin questioning whether this practice is sustainable in terms of equity and fiscal responsibility.