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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 16, 2010

School boarders can stay, for now

By Diana Leone
Advertiser Staff Writer

As lawmakers continue crafting a state budget, one item that appears to have dodged the knife this year is Hawai'i's only public boarding school.

Lahainaluna High School on Maui has 116 boarding students among its total of 987 students.

When compared to the state's looming $1.2 billion budget deficit, the $523,000 line item to fund Lahainaluna's boarding program is small. But some lawmakers, including Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Donna Mercado Kim, D-14th (Halawa, Moanalua, Kamehameha Heights), have questioned whether a boarding program that serves relatively few students is "core" to the Department of Education's mission.

The tradition of boarding at the school dates back to its inception as a missionary school in 1831.

"In the past when Moloka'i didn't have a high school, students would come to Maui and there was a need to board (at Lahainaluna)," Kim said. "Now every island has schools and that's not an issue."

What is an issue, Kim said, is that each Lahainaluna boarder is using about $4,500 more per year than the average student. And they pay no boarding fee.

Boarding program supporters, such as Lahaina Realtor and former Lahainaluna boarder Richard "Noosh" Nishihara, say the 18 hours a week of school maintenance work performed by the boarders would cost more if school employees were hired to do it.

Checking out that assertion and also looking at public-private partnership options for funding the boarding program are among things a proposed Lahaina

luna Boarding Program Working Group would bring back to the Legislature before its 2011 session, according to Senate Concurrent Resolution 6, SD 1.

Kim's committee backed away from a direct cut to the program, plus about $35 million in other cuts to the Department of Education, she said. Instead, the department can decide how to trim that amount internally.

Rep. Angus McKelvey, D-19th (Lahaina, Ka'anapali, Kapalua), said he hopes his House colleagues in the money conference committee will "continue to hold the line" to keep the Lahainaluna boarding money in the budget.

The DOE earlier this year listed ending Lahainaluna's boarding program as part of $45 million to $81 million in potential budget cuts. But the Board of Education, which sets policy for the system, kept the Lahainaluna boarding program off its "to cut" list, DOE spokeswoman Sandy Goya said.

Nishihara called the idea of ending the boarding program "shortsighted." He said he got a foundation for his life's work in the Peace Corps and for the Agency for International Development from working the vegetable gardens and poultry farm at Lahainaluna.

Though the ag programs have been scaled back from the days of running a dairy, growing vegetables and supplying all the school's eggs, the student workers still are a cost-savings for the school, Nishihara said. And the teamwork, cooperation and discipline of having required chores is one of the character-building attributes of the boarding program, he said.