Waimanalo gets backing to open library Saturday
By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer
The Waimanalo Public and School Library yesterday won the unanimous support of a Board of Education committee in its effort to save its Saturday morning children's program from closure.
While the decision means that Waimanalo library supporters likely have secured the votes needed when the issue goes to the full Board of Education next week, questions remain about whether the exemption for Waimanalo opens the door for libraries across the state to ask for or demand special consideration.
The Lingle administration has told the library system to cut $526,000, or about 2.5 percent, from this year's budget.
State Librarian Virginia Lowell decided to cut all libraries' hours to 40 hours, five days a week to manage the cut, prompting criticism from Lingle, lawmakers and others.
The Friends of Waimanalo Library want it to stay open Monday through Saturday, based on the fact that the extra day would cost the library system nothing. A Verizon grant pays for the programs and a coordinator on Saturdays, while the state Department of Education pays for utilities at the public and school facility.
Waimanalo branch library manager Richard Burns said the $15,000 grant last year helped keep the library open for four hours on Saturday for youth and adult literacy programs and computer training.
"You know this is a community in need," Burns told committee members. "You know this is a community at risk."
While Lowell said she supports the Waimanalo program, she warned board members that granting an exemption will lead to more libraries asking for special consideration.
Already, the communities served by the Kailua, Hawai'i Kai and Thelma Parker Memorial libraries have inquired about exemptions from the five-day rule.
Lowell said she had several problems with the Waimanalo exemption, chiefly that it is not fair to hold libraries to varying standards, and that there are legal issues about the mingling of public and private funds. Lowell said issues ranging from utility costs, volunteer workers, security and liability need to be worked out in the long term, but cannot be dealt with now.
"There are a whole lot of issues to address," Lowell said. "They are long-term projects. They will not achieve for us the $526,000 (in budget cuts)."
Lowell said the change in operating hours will start in mid-May, giving the system less than two months of the fiscal year to make up its shortfall. The fiscal year ends June 30.
But while board members voiced their support for the beleaguered Lowell, they said they disagreed with her on this issue, saying that Waimanalo should not be punished for finding additional private funding.
"To me it seems like we should be congratulating this community," library committee chair Carol Gabbard said.
Committee member Breene Harimoto said his vote was based on the need of the Waimanalo community, but that does not mean that all requests from other libraries would be granted.
Tim Littlejohn, branch manager of Waialua Public Library, said people should remember that Lowell did not cause the budget cuts and is being used as a scapegoat by the media and some legislators for the library's financial problems.
Littlejohn said he supported Lowell's five-days-a-week library operating limit. "Giving one library an exemption opens up a can of worms," he said.
Reach Jennifer Hiller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8084.