Friday, July 23, 2004


Cut purse strings
on education funds


The Lingle administration has yet to decide if it will release the $11.4 million appropriated for public school programs.

GOVERNOR Lingle's cautious approach to state spending is commendable in most cases, but it may be placing public schools on shaky ground by withholding funds already budgeted for education programs.

Considering that state revenues are up more than $100 million than expected and that the governor has repeatedly stressed the importance of education, Lingle should not hesitate to cut loose the money schools need to hire teachers and buy textbooks.

As students return to classrooms this week and next, the Lingle administration has yet to decide whether to release $11.4 million the state Legislature appropriated for various segments of the Reinventing Education Act. The act was a particularly contentious issue during the legislative session when the governor saw her own education reform plan usurped by one formulated by lawmakers, who eventually overrode her veto of the measure.

While it would be unfair to characterize the administration's delay as spiteful, withholding the funds leaves Lingle vulnerable to such criticism. But that is secondary to the need to get the ball rolling on public school improvements the funds are intended to launch.

Among them are hiring more teachers to lower the number of students in kindergarten through second-grade classes, buying math textbooks, setting up networks and school councils to involve more parents and the community in education, training principals to handle new duties, paying differentials to certified teachers and developing the new weighted student formula through which schools will be funded.

Despite the higher than expected revenue, Lingle has instructed all nonfixed state spending be reduced by 1 percent, maintaining that savings are necessary to head off what she projects will be a $150 million deficit in 2006-2007.

Meanwhile, decisions on releasing funds also are being suspended at least until September, when fresh revenue projections will be issued. That might be too late for schools to hire staff and start programs. It also creates uncertainty at schools. One Kalihi elementary principal is rolling the dice, hiring two teachers to comply with class-size requirements without knowing for sure if he'll be able to pay them.

Budget Director Georgina Kawamura told the Star-Bulletin's Susan Essoyan that deferrals can be appealed. If that's the case, Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto, parents, educators and other interested in bettering public education should petition the governor to untie the state's pursestrings.


Extra effort needed
to hire air controllers


Thousands of air traffic controllers hired to replace strikers fired by President Reagan are due to retire during the next few years.

AN air traffic control crisis looms in Hawaii and across the country because of the retirement of controllers who replaced those fired in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan for going on strike. The Federal Aviation Administration needs to refine its assessment of the situation, and congressional action is needed to expedite the hiring process.

Fifteen of Honolulu's 83 air traffic controllers are eligible to retire, along with at least three of the 12 to 15 controllers at Maui and Big Island airports. Controllers are eligible to retire after 25 years of employment or when they reach 50 years old. They are required to retire at age 56, although FAA Administrator Marion Blakey proposed last month that Congress allow her to waive the mandatory retirement age under some circumstances.

Most of the retirements will come due during the next few years for employees who were hired to replace the 11,350 controllers fired 22 years ago for going on strike. The situation has become confused by the differing methods that air traffic offices use to calculate how many new hires will be needed, according to a June report by the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general.

In addition, the congressional Government Accountability Office, formerly the General Accounting Office, reports that efforts to modernize traffic control systems after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack "can be very time-consuming, often take controllers off-line and place additional pressure on an already constrained work force." The GAO noted that air traffic has increased during recent months, and this summer's numbers could exceed those of previous summers.

Congress is considering a bipartisan proposal to give $14 million to the FAA to speed up the hiring process. The FAA recognizes the challenge but is confident that it will respond adequately. "The retirement wave is real," said FAA spokesman Greg Martin. "We're going to have to be ready for it. We will be ready."

The agency could begin by making a national assessment using a uniform method for all air traffic offices, instead of trying to make policy from a hodgepodge of data. While Honolulu's assessment is based on those who will become eligible for retirement, a radar center in New York counted only mandatory retirements and projected transfers.



Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

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