Funds to repair schools withheld
Gov. Lingle puts fixes on hold for 55 schools due to lower tax revenue
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Old light fixtures and locks, aging floor tiles and worn carpet will have to last another eight months or longer at dozens of public schools after the Lingle administration decided to withhold repair money.
The state Department of Budget and Finance told the Department of Education that it would not release $110 million out of $235 million appropriated by lawmakers from the general fund in the past two legislative sessions.
The restrictions could delay construction work for at least eight months in about 55 of 96 public schools that are first in line for repairs.
Legislators say they approved the funds using cash from the general fund rather than bonds so that renovations would be cheaper and done quicker.
State Budget Director Georgina Kawamura said the money is being held because tax revenue for the last fiscal year came in lower than forecast.
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The Lingle administration is not releasing $110 million approved by the Legislature to renovate classrooms and maintain public school campuses because of lower-than-expected tax collections.
The money being held up by the state Department of Budget and Finance accounts for nearly half of the $235 million allocated for repairs at 96 isle schools.
The shortfall means that, for as many as 55 of those schools, replacement of carpet and tiles, locks, light fixtures, inefficient bulbs, chalk boards and other items could be delayed by eight months or longer.
Education officials declined to give a list of schools affected until all principals were notified.
The state Budget and Finance Department warned education officials last month that it would not release $60 million of $160 million lawmakers appropriated last year to fix classrooms and $50 million of $75 million that was set aside this year for campus repair and maintenance.
The money to pay for the repairs was to come directly from the state's general fund, rather than through bond financing.
State Budget Director Georgina Kawamura said the schools construction budget was restricted because tax revenue for the last fiscal year came in lower than expected.
Tax collections were up $4.58 billion, which is 3.4 percent higher than in the previous year but about $115 million lower than projected when lawmakers passed the budget.
A nonprofit group that helps repair schools using volunteers says it is trying to get $460,000 released.
Volunteers from Prudential Locations and Hawaii 3R's (Repair, Remodel, and Restore Hawaii's public schools) were at Niu Valley Intermediate School yesterday painting sidewalks and performing general maintenance.
"We want (the governor) to release the money eventually, so we haven't complained," said executive director Ryan Shigetani said. "Hawaii 3R's is worth the investment."
If the Niu Valley Middle School's project had been completed by the state, it is estimated that it would have cost $50,000. Using volunteers, the project cost only $15,900.
Parent volunteer Susan Moriguchi said the school's repairs need to be taken care of quicker.
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Volunteer Jon Yamasato painted a set of steps at Niu Valley Middle School yesterday. The school was the recipient of the Hawaii 3R's Project and received $15,000 for general improvements. Approximately 40 volunteers from the school and Prudential Location Foundation turned out to help improve the school. CLICK FOR LARGE
"The environment is a big part of it," she said. "If it's a clean school and a safe school, the kids will want to come to school."
"It's rough because we don't know who, what, where, when and how. It is difficult to plan," said Principal Justin Mew, about receiving funds from the state. "The longer it takes, the repairs get worse. And in the end, it'll probably cost more."
Senate Education Chairman Sen. Norman Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village) said the state "should look for other ways" to preserve its finances.
"I believe we should continue to hold fixing the schools, repair and maintenance, high in terms of priority," he said.
State Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades) said lawmakers made the appropriations for school repairs from the general fund because of a projected $700 million budget surplus.
He said bonds carry interest rates, so taking the money directly from the general fund makes the projects cheaper and easier to complete.
"The governor must believe that the economy will slow down to a point where it's not fiscally responsible to use cash," said Takumi, who chairs the House Education Committee. "I don't know how true or not true that is ... but there's nothing we can do until next session."
As a way to get some additional money for repairs, the Department of Education is offering to withdraw a recent request for $30 million for classroom renovation if the state agrees to release the same amount for general infrastructure repairs
Duane Kashiwai, public works manager for the education department, said those funds would cover more pressing needs like roofing, restroom and drainage upgrades.
Education officials also plan to ask legislators to convert the funds being withheld into bond financing, said Kashiwai.
Kawamura said the budget and finance department would support the Department of Education's request for bond appropriations during next year's legislative session.
But that would still mean the money would not be available until the next fiscal year begins in July of next year.
Star-Bulletin reporter Brittany Yap contributed to this story.