Schools given extra $20 million but might need to cut next year
Schools that would have had to begin cutting staff for the coming school year will now actually have more money in their budgets than this year, under legislation expected to receive final approval today.
In fact, all of Hawaii's 255 regular public schools will have money added to their budgets as the state Legislature spreads out an extra $20 million aimed at cushioning the impact of a new school funding system.
"It's a relief. We're real appreciative of the energy and effort of legislators to help address this," said Catherine Bratt, principal of Kohala High School.
Bratt would have had to trim her $2 million annual budget by $68,000 next year -- the first 10 percent of a total of nearly $700,000 in cuts over four years required under the "weighted student formula," which will award funds based on student characteristics.
Instead, the school will receive $126,580 in new money from the Legislature, resulting in a net gain of $57,885 for the coming school year, roughly equivalent to a full-time top-scale teacher salary.
The reprieve will last only a year, however, after which schools must begin adapting to the weighted student formula, which is aimed at spending state education money where it is most needed.
Many schools with high numbers of students who are considered more challenging to teach, like the poor and English-language learners, would get increased funding -- but that is at the expense of schools that already feel underfunded.
Some principals are now pinning their hopes on the work of the committee that shapes the formula -- recently reconstituted with a new membership exploring ways to lessen the impact. This could include a guaranteed base amount of funding that would ensure each school's basic staff needs are met.
House Education Chairman Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Punchbowl) says schools still must recognize that they have to adapt.
"We believe the $20 million will help schools deal with the learning curve, but no matter what (the weights committee) comes up with, some will win and some will lose in the end," he said.
The extra funding is just one example of what has turned out to be a good year for schools as the Legislature divvies up a bumper surplus. Other key legislation to be voted on today:
» Legislators, who identified fixing aging schools as a top priority early in the current session, have settled on $235 million in new money -- $160 million to renovate classrooms at 96 schools and an additional $75 million for regular repair and maintenance.
"With the surplus we have, we felt it was an opportune time to address this. Most students are not productive if they're not proud of their schools," Takumi said.
The challenge for the Department of Education will be to spend it.
There is still nearly $150 million in previously budgeted funding still awaiting release by Gov. Linda Lingle. Her administration is now working more closely with the DOE on prioritizing projects and releasing the required funds to address a roughly $500 million backlog of unfunded repairs.
"No matter how fast you get the money, it still takes time to plan and get people to do the work," said Principal Catherine Payne, of Farrington High School, which has re-roofing, electrical and other repair needs totaling well more than $10 million.
"That's the biggest problem: There's so much work and not enough people to do it," she said.
The new money also will have little impact on the backlog's dollar amount since new projects are continually added, said DOE Public Works Director Duane Kashiwai. But repair needs will steadily be addressed, he added.
"We have a more predictable system, and the money is coming out," he said, noting that $100 million has been released in the last few months alone.
» A new chief financial officer will be created to exercise more oversight over the sprawling DOE and its $2 billion-plus budget. As a measure of its importance, the position's salary of $115,000* equals that of Superintendent Pat Hamamoto. Hopes are that it will lure a highly skilled financial manager from the private sector.
"An organization the size of the DOE just cries out for something like that," Takumi said.
» A new-school construction fund would be set up with an appropriation of $50 million. (This fund did not survive late-session negotiations between lawmakers.)*
With new homes going up at a rapid pace in parts of the state, the fund is intended to help jump-start construction of the requisite new-school needs. It would pay for design and planning and provide funds for payments by the DOE to private developers who build schools and then lease or sell them back to the state.
» A bill intended to establish a single statewide school curriculum has been watered down after encountering opposition from the DOE and teachers union, which objected to curriculum decisions being mandated.
A reshaped version instead appropriates money to local-level school districts to help them devise districtwide curricula by tracking longitudinal data on student performance and funding the purchase of necessary school materials and technology.
A BUSY SESSION FOR SCHOOLS
»191:The number of bills focused on kindergarten through 12th-grade education introduced during this session
»21:The number still alive yesterday
Source: Legislative staff
Thursday, May 4, 2006
» The annual salary for the state Department of Education's new chief financial officer position will be $115,000. A Page A1 article in Tuesday's morning edition incorrectly reported the salary would be $150,000. Also, a $50 million appropriation for a new school construction fund mentioned in the article actually did not survive late-session negotiations between lawmakers.