Hawaii public school principals must OK donations
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
Principal Annette Nishikawa has gladly accepted donations of used binders for her teachers and even new curtains for Kapolei Middle School's locker-room showers, but she's turned down dozens of used computers.
"When a company says, 'We have this whole batch of 25, 30 old computers we want to donate,' it doesn't work for us," Nishikawa said. "We need them new."
Like schools all over the state, the decision on what to accept and what to reject at Kapolei Middle School lies with the principal. There is no systemwide policy and no set procedures governing donations, state Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said.
"It's always best to check with the school first and find out if there's a need," Knudsen said. "In many cases, it's more of a burden to be strapped to old and obsolete equipment that's donated. It really is up to the individual school."
Schools are required to report donations of $500 or more but the DOE does not have a comprehensive list of lesser amounts given each year to each of its 256 schools, Knudsen said.
According to a report covering the 2005-2006 school year, however, Hawai'i's public schools received at least $2.1 million in gifts, including musical instruments, books, air conditioners, power tools, fax machines, office furniture and a long list of other items, Knudsen said.
But one school's need in a particular year might be an unwanted burden the next, he said.
"While a school might accept chairs and filing cabinets, it's not like there's an ongoing need for chairs and filing cabinets," he said. Individual schools may turn down — or accept — computer donations each year, but Ken Goldstein sorts through hundreds of offers each day.
Goldstein is the founder and state director of Hawai'i Computers for Kids, which serves as a clearinghouse for donated computers and computer equipment for Hawai'i's public schools and about 30 nonprofit groups.
Each Thursday, Goldstein updates a list of what's available and connects donors with those who want the goods.
He will only accept Pentium III/4, Celeron computers and Macintosh G3s or faster.
"If somebody calls me up and says, 'I have two fax machines,' I say, 'No way,' " he said. "If they have a computer and two fax machines, then I'll talk to them. Somebody donated 800 office cubicles for computer labs (about four years ago) and it took me two days to get rid of it. It all has to be related to technology. Somebody at (the University of Hawai'i) called the other day with 500 slide projector carousels. I haven't figured out how to get rid of those yet."
Like other schools, Mililani Mauka Elementary School's parent-teacher organization makes a wish list each year of items it would like donated.
The group will meet next week for the first time this school year and principal Carol Petersen expects the list to include flowers, decorations and baked goods for the annual May Day festivities.
In November, there will also be a request for donated board games for the children to play during rainy-day recesses.
But other welcomed donations are often unexpected. Toward the end of the last school year, a man showed up with tubs full of craft supplies that he had cleared out of his mother's house.
"The teachers picked through it," Petersen said. "Otherwise, he was just going to dump it."
Like other schools, offers of used computer equipment are always tricky at Mililani Mauka, Petersen said.
"If we can't use it, then we have to pay to discard it and it becomes humbug for us," she said.
The big item this year on Kapolei Middle School's wish list is the need for volunteer tutors to help out individual students. "It's not materials so much," principal Nishikawa said. "We'll take as many volunteers as we can get."
But a couple of years ago, someone donated new shower curtains to replace the ones in the school's locker rooms.
"We've got 1,600 kids and at one time or another all the kids have P.E.," Nishikawa said. "So we welcomed the new shower curtains."
Donations work in other ways, too, at Kapolei Middle School. Each year, the staff and faculty of 110 teachers donate sheets, utensils, plates and other household items to its new faculty. This year, the school will welcome 20 new teachers — 10 of whom recently moved from the Mainland.
"It's just something we do," Nishikawa said.
Reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com.