BOE members delay vote on budget plan
• Photo gallery: Teachers rally against budget cuts
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Education officials are proposing furloughs of teachers and staff, a 5 percent across-the-board cut in school-level programs and a reduction of part-time workers as part of a plan to address a $226 million budget cut imposed by the state Legislature and Gov. Linda Lingle.
As part of tangled accounting of how education officials plan to deal with the most drastic budget cuts to public schools ever, about $120 million would come in furloughs and other labor cuts.
Education officials are currently in discussions with labor unions — including the Hawaii State Teachers Association — regarding furloughs, but Superintendent Pat Hamamoto has said cutting up to six school days from the school calendar might be necessary.
Teachers showed up en masse at yesterday's board meeting — filling the gallery and spilling out into the hallway — to voice objection to any budget reduction that includes cutting school days.
"If this board goes along with any plan that includes furloughs, expect decreased gains in our schools for the next two years. Expect that many of your highly qualified teachers will leave the state," said James Urbaniak, a science teacher at 'Ilima Intermediate School.
"Expect that your students will not receive the necessary instruction to prepare them for the Hawai'i State Assessment. ... Expect students to learn that Hawai'i really does not value education and our schools."
State Board of Education members yesterday delayed an immediate decision on the convoluted budget reduction proposal, which also includes $40 million in previously approved cuts. They are likely to continue analyzing the plan at a budget committee meeting on June 22.
With $226 million in budget cuts expected next year and another $241 million expected in 2011, education officials say the DOE will need to cut a total of $468 million over the next two years.
Not all of the budget reductions will be offset through cuts.
Yesterday, Lingle and Hamamoto both signed the state's application for State Fiscal Stabilization Funds, federal stimulus money earmarked for education.
Hamamoto told board members that the application is expected to bring in some $111 million for Hawai'i's public schools, part of the DOE's plan to offset budget reductions.
Board members voted to send school administrators half of the money they had been expecting for next year while they take more time to figure out where to cut the rest from the DOE's budget.
"There's a lot of purchasing and planning schools need to do before opening in July. We're not looking at a lot of time," said Garrett Toguchi, the board chairman.
"If we don't signal to principals how much money they will be getting, there will be a lot of anxiety — a state of paralysis — without knowing how much money they have," Toguchi said.
However, schools are likely to receive at least $35 less per student next year under the budget reduction plan proposed to the board. That's because DOE budget officials are suggesting slicing the so-called Weighted Student Formula, the department's method of allocating money to schools, by some $8 million.
About $1 billion currently gets distributed among the schools under the spending formula.
While the cut may not sound like a lot, Ruth Silberstein, principal of Palolo Elementary, said yesterday that means she'd have to eliminate at least one teaching assistant.
"It's so important, especially when you have a large class," Silberstein said.
Silberstein also told board members she's opposed to cutting school days because it will mean her already academically challenged school will slip further behind.
"I ask you to preserve their instructional days. ... Increased achievement is a result of focused teaching, mainly standards teaching," Silberstein said.
"We have added to (instruction), much rigor, intensity and depth. And the days needed for students to get hold of these standards and master them are so important."
Education officials are proposing cutting all school programs by 5 percent. That includes athletics, Hawaiian language immersion, Hawaiian studies, special education, speech pathologists, school health aides, the A-Plus after-school program and many others.
Board member Donna Ikeda, who has been fiercely opposed to cutting school-level funding, questioned the proposed cuts.
"I am wondering if you are making wise decisions," Ikeda said. "By taking a little here and a little there, aren't you rendering some program ineffective?"
In a show of opposition to the governor's furlough plan, the board voted unanimously yesterday to urge the governor to consider other sources of funding to fill the budget shortfall, including an increase in the general excise tax and use of special funds, including the Hurricane Relief Fund.
The room full of teachers erupted into applause at the suggestion.
"I have been teaching in Hawai'i's public schools for 16 years and never in all these years have I witnessed as potentially devastating attack on public education as Gov. Lingle's current demands to slash the DOE budget and force furloughs," said Andrew Snow, a science teacher at Mililani High School.
Snow suggested that the governor and state Legislature consider a "modest increase" in the state's general excise tax.