Friday, February 21, 2003

Local school boards
would cost $6 million

By Susan Essoyan

Running seven local school boards, as proposed by Gov. Linda Lingle, would cost an extra $6 million a year, according to Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto.

She released the figure at last night's meeting of the state Board of Education at Nanakuli High School, in response to a request from the board. Most of the cost would go to personnel, estimated at 15 staff members per board.

The governor wants legislators to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow voters to decide whether they want to create local school boards, but her bill appears dead at the Legislature.

Lingle says local boards would be more responsive to their communities and more efficient in delivering services.

But Hamamoto said that having several boards could multiply some costs. For example, she said, the current statewide board has a five-member staff handling improvement projects: three planners, one engineer and one secretary.

Each district, however, would need at least a three-person staff to handle that -- one planner, one engineer and one secretary, or a total of 21 positions, she said.

Board member Karen Knudsen called the $6 million estimate "just a start."

"This is just the operations of the boards, but each one would need a separate Department of Education to handle payroll, personnel and so on," Knudsen said.

On another issue, the board thanked the governor for approving the transfer of $14.6 million to the Department of Education to handle a budget shortfall in providing services to 860 autistic children this year.

Last year, the state shifted responsibility for autism services from the Health Department to the Department of Education, but not enough money was allocated for it.

"This transfer of funds will correct the shortfall and ensure our students with the greatest needs are served," Lingle said.

The Lingle administration has also amended its budget to add the same amount in fiscal years 2004 and 2005 to the Department of Education's autism program. The money will come from the Health Department's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division, which was responsible for autism services.

The budget is subject to legislative approval.

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