Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Felix officials
to appear before

A legislative panel will look
into the state's compliance
with the consent decree

By Crystal Kua

The court-appointed monitor in the Felix consent decree and his administrator are among the first witnesses being subpoenaed to appear on July 13 before a 12-member special Senate-House investigating committee.

The committee, looking at how the state is spending money designated for special education, wants Ivor Groves and Felix Monitoring Project Executive Director Juanita Iwamoto to bring with them documents related to the state's efforts to comply with the federal decree.

"They have a lot of information about the consent decree," said Rep. Scott Saiki, co-chairman of the committee, after the conclusion of the panel's first hearing.

A 1993 federal lawsuit alleged the state was violating federal law by not providing appropriate educational and mental health services to special-needs children in public schools.

The state entered into the consent decree in 1994, agreeing to improve services in six years.

But last year, U.S. District Judge David Ezra held the state in contempt for missing the deadline. The state now has until the end of the year to meet the mandate, although that deadline will likely be pushed back as well.

Saiki said the state has spent more than $1 billion since the start of the consent decree, and the committee's goal is to scrutinize the state's management and implementation of the consent decree and to see whether money was spent wisely.

He said there are concerns that instead of helping children, the system has been benefiting private agencies who are contracted by the state to provide services to special-education children.

"At this juncture the question must be asked: Why are we not in compliance after we have spent over $1 billion?" Saiki said. "We owe it to our taxpayers and to our special-education kids to find the answer to this question."

Saiki said the state departments of Education and Health did not adequately answer lawmakers' questions this past session and stonewalled state Auditor Marion Higa's efforts to audit the compliance efforts.

State schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said the agencies have cooperated, but the Legislature may not be satisfied with the answers.

"We withheld nothing," LeMahieu said.

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