Thursday, July 22, 2004

Inaction on school bill
puts $11.4M in limbo

One principal hires two teachers,
hoping he can pay them later

Most Hawaii public school students start school by the end of next week, but the Lingle administration has not decided yet whether to release money to lower class sizes and buy new textbooks for them.

School funding

Reinventing Education Act money that has yet to be released by Gov. Lingle to Hawaii's public schools:

>> $2.5 million for mathematics textbooks.
>> $2.1 million to reduce class size in kindergarten through second grade.
>> $2 million for information technology to support school operations.
>> $1.7 million for Parent Community Networking Centers.
>> $1 million for the Hawaii Principals Academy, training for principals, and alternative certification to combat the administrator shortage.
>> $750,000 for School Community Councils and piloting academic and financial plans.
>> $480,000 for salary differentials and reimbursement for National Board Certification teachers.
>> $460,000 for full-time Student Activities Coordinators in the high schools.

Budget Director Georgina Kawamura said yesterday that no decisions have been made on the $11.4 million that was appropriated in the Reinventing Education Act, which was written by Democratic leaders and passed over Gov. Linda Lingle's veto. It took effect July 1.

The bill covers several new initiatives, including money to hire 75 full-time teachers to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through second grade, $2.5 million for math textbooks and $1.7 million to ensure that every school has at least one part-time facilitator to get parents involved in the schools.

At Kaewai Elementary School in Kalihi, Principal Dale Spaulding is counting on the money and has already hired two more teachers to lower class size in kindergarten and first grade.

"My understanding is that the law took effect and it's full steam ahead, and I'm hoping against hope that the money will be released," he said, "because if not, that will be very disruptive to the schools."

Kaewai has 250 students registered for the new school year, which begins next Thursday. The smaller class size will give more attention to its youngest students, most of whom come from low-income and immigrant families.

"For a little school like us, it means everything -- the difference between providing a really good education and just kind of limping along," Spaulding said.

Kawamura said decisions on new budget items are being deferred until the state gets a clearer picture on projected tax revenues at the next Council on Revenues meeting in September.

She noted the deferrals can be appealed, and the administration is looking at specific items in the education bill. But she could not identify the items or say when a decision would be made.

Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto, who officially requested the funds on July 1, said the uncertainty makes it difficult to get the new school year off to a good start. Sixty percent of Hawaii's schools are on year-round or modified calendars. Some have already started the new year; most will do so by the end of next week.

"When you don't know when the money is coming, you're hesitant to commit to starting a program or hiring people because you don't know if you'll be able to pay them," Hamamoto said. "We may lose good people because they can't wait until September. They have to pay bills."

The new law is the centerpiece of the Democrats' push to improve public education. It shifts more power to principals over budgeting and creates School Community Councils to encourage local involvement.

Along with the class size reduction and textbook money, it earmarks $2 million for information technology to support school operations and $1 million to establish a Hawaii Principals Academy, train principals for their new roles and help address the shortage of administrators. It also includes funding to develop a "weighted student formula" for budgeting, an initiative championed by the governor.

"With all the talk about improving education and putting kids first, what I would hope would happen is that after the heated legislative session, that we would all work collaboratively on implementing the new law," said Board of Education member Garrett Toguchi. "I think that this one issue is not getting off on the right foot."

Lingle spokesman Russell Pang said the money was not being held up because the governor had opposed the bill, but was simply going through the overall "budget review process."

Lingle has told departments to cut their nonfixed costs by 1 percent and has held up grants-in-aid to nonprofit agencies. Among them is Hawaii 3Rs, a public-private partnership that helps repair Hawaii's schools.

Last week, the Tax Department reported that the state had collected $100 million more than expected in revenues for the fiscal year that ended June 30. That prompted Democratic leaders to encourage Lingle to loosen up on the state purse strings, but she resisted.

"In light of the positive outcome on tax revenues and the fact that we both hold education high on our agendas, the money for education should be released," Senate Education Chairman Norman Sakamoto said yesterday. "My hope is that it is in the pipeline. Otherwise we'll be very disappointed."

Although Democratic leaders say this year's budget is balanced, Lingle projects a $150 million deficit in the 2006-2007 fiscal biennium due to debt service and employee costs. "The $100 million will help, but it doesn't mean we have a lot of extra money to spend," Pang said.

State Department of Education


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