plan for charter
LeMahieu says Higa's moneyBy Crystal Kua
formula would burden the
public school system
State auditor Marion Higa's formula for determining the amount of money budgeted for new century charter schools would add to the financial burden on the public school system, state schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said.
"Her formula creates positions the department doesn't have ... and it funds those positions with money the department doesn't have," LeMahieu said in response to Higa's report, issued yesterday.
LeMahieu said part of the problem lies in the law passed last year that creates new charter schools. "The Legislature has passed a bill that spins off new schools and that law provides nothing in the way of funding for them."
Charter schools are funded with public dollars but allowed to operate independently and free from most state rules and regulations. In exchange for this independence, these schools are accountable for student performance through a charter.
Higa's report sets out the budget allocation for Hawaii's only two charter schools -- $1.6 million for Waialae Elementary and Lanikai elementary schools.
Higa came up with the figures by determining fixed costs, variable costs and negotiated costs for each school.
LeMahieu praised Higa for coming up with the basic framework for determining the allocation.
"They've done a marvelous job, conceptually, of framing a fair generalized allocation approach and I really like the way they've done it with the fixed costs, with the variable costs and with the negotiated costs. There's lots of room to discuss particulars."
LeMahieu said he also doesn't have a problem with the figures for Waialae and Lanikai, or even with using the approach for existing schools wanting to become charter schools because these schools already have existing budgets from which to determine fixed costs.
But the new century charter schools law, an offshoot of the previous student center law under which Waialae and Lanikai became charter schools, allows for both existing and new schools to become charter schools. The law allows up to 25 charter schools, including the two existing schools.
"Beyond the two charter schools, if you extend this methodology across 23 more schools, it does start to burden the system," LeMahieu said. "There are 247 schools so there are 247 principals. Now, there can be 23 new schools with 23 new principal according to this funding. That's 270 principals. There are not 270 principals in the budget."
The fixed cost allocations have a built-in subsidy for small schools, LeMahieu contends. "One of the reasons why I can predict it will burden the system is because a disproportionate number of charter schools are smaller schools, which means in effect they capitalize on the fixed-cost portion."