Lingle's schools budget called too small
DOE administrators say it fails to address pressing essentials
State education officials criticized Gov. Linda Lingle's spending proposal yesterday, saying that it lacks money to pay for basic upgrades to schools like removal of asbestos and federally mandated projects.
A top concern was the $300 million set aside by the governor for capital improvement projects over two years, an amount that education administrators claim ignores critical needs schools are facing.
"We will not be able to keep up with the backlog of repair and maintenance," said Edwin Koyama, budget director for the state Department of Education.
But Georgina Kawamura, state budget director, argued that the Education Department has enough money left over from appropriations in the previous biennium to fund projects up until June 30, 2008. And by then, she noted, schools will likely be receiving more money from supplemental budget requests.
"They have funds still available for them to spend," she said, adding that the administration wants to give money to specific projects, including the replacement of burned buildings at Kalaheo and Paia elementary schools. "It's not like they are going to have zero dollars."
However, Board of Education members, who examined a revised version of Lingle's plan yesterday afternoon at a committee meeting, still said they could not understand why the administration left out funds for key projects while giving money for others placed at the bottom of the BOE's priority list.
For example, under the current proposal, the DOE says it could not afford to "fully comply" with federal mandates such as the American with Disabilities Act, accommodations for students with special needs and gender equity provisions. In addition, "the initiative to air-condition classrooms will come to a stop" while health "and safety issues will also be of concern," the DOE said.
Board member Garrett Toguchi noted that failing to complete some projects could result in federal sanctions and fines. In particular, he was worried about the replacement of cesspools, an effort that would be $5 million short, according to the DOE.
"That's one area where we will have severe federal penalties if we are not able to continue with our replacement plan," Toguchi said.
Criticism over Lingle's proposal came a day after education leaders said they had been pleased with the governor's decision to restore $40 million for equipment such as computers and books. But, when compared with what the BOE asked for, the plan remains short $146.3 million in general funds and $498.5 million in CIP money over the two-year budget cycle.
Greg Knudsen, spokesman for the Education Department, said the revision to the plan was "a good starting point" for negotiations with lawmakers.
"It's not that shocking that the governor's budget wouldn't include a lot of the items that are supposed to be in there," he said. "If that's what we had to live with, it would be pretty devastating."
Asked whether the administration could take another look at its offer, Kawamura said, "I know they will ask again, and we can review again."
"But of course, these proposals have to go down to the Legislature, so, who knows what they'll do with it?" she said.