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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 25, 2009

School board must act soon on fiscal plan

The sound of this particular ticking clock seems deafening: Time is running out for public schools to prepare for the coming academic year, and authorities haven't approved a spending plan yet.

There are complex reasons for this, but none of them makes planning a school year any easier for the administrators and staff who need things in order for the teachers' first day of work July 28 and the official start of classes two days later.

On Monday, the Board of Education's budget committee ended its executive session without a decision on the spending plan for cutting $226 million over the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

The school board is just one more political entity that seems to have missed the urgency of bringing this crisis to a close.

It's true that many balls are still in play: public employee contract talks, furloughs ordered yesterday by Gov. Linda Lingle and a court challenge of her authority to do so.

Also, members were worried about the governor's plan to release state agency funds in quarterly allotments, to be adjusted as the economy changes. The Department of Education rightly contends that operating an academic year's program requires more funding certainty than that.

An opportunity to submit a proposal for an exemption from the quarterly-release policy just came up. While the governor should approve that exemption and allot the DOE funds for the entire year, that matter was insufficient reason for the committee to delay a recommendation on the proposed cuts.

The entire board had set a July 1 meeting to deal with this, but yesterday canceled it. Big mistake. Further delay will only impede school planning.

Nothing can be set in stone in such a turbulent situation, anyway. Budgets ordinarily need adjusting, all the more so in such an extraordinary year.

But schools need a spending plan, based on the best information available at the time, if classes are expected to convene on schedule.

Everyone has a part to play in making that happen. The governor needs to approve the budget, unions need to come to terms with revenue shortfalls.

And the BOE, elected to oversee the schooling of Isle keiki, must act so educators can get to work on the coming year.