Isle schools must absorb $7.7 million budget cut
Public schools could be forced to increase fees for services and afterschool programs
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The price of A+, lunch and bus fares could go up as education officials consider raising fees to absorb a $7.7 million cut in their $2.4 billion operating budget.
Lawmakers, faced with slower revenue projections, say they were forced to reduce funds for those services so they wouldn't pull money from classrooms.
"If I had personally my way, I wouldn't have cut them at all," said Senate Education Chairman Norman Sakamoto, who suggested the Board of Education "either charge additional fees or get more efficient."
School board members will hear about the Education Department's plans to make up for the shortfall at a meeting next month.
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It could cost parents more money to enroll public school students in afterschool programs, put them on the bus or pay for their lunch as education officials consider raising fees to make up for a $7.7 million budget cut next academic year.
The Legislature is giving the state Department of Education $313 million in construction money in 2008-09 to close hundreds of cesspools, build new campuses and classrooms and renovate old ones. But the department's $2.4 billion operating budget is $7.7 million short, said budget Director Adele Chong.
Lawmakers said slower revenue projections forced them to decrease funds for A+, food and transportation -- areas they feel will have the least impact on student achievement. They noted that nearly all state departments were given less money, and said education officials will have to cover the shortfall with money from savings, increasing prices for those services or cutting them.
"We believe that the (Education) Department, like all departments, just have to tighten up their belts one notch and they will be OK," said House Education Chairman Rep. Roy Takumi. "In terms of just things that happen in the classroom, I believe the department was adequately funded."
Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Ikeda said she would wait for the Education Department to present a plan next month on possible ways to minimize the impact of the cuts on parents and their children before discussing the possibility of voting for fee hikes.
"It's premature to say. We know the cuts were taken in those areas, but we don't know what the specifics are," she said. "When we get the details, then I guess we will make decisions accordingly."
Education Department Chief Financial Officer James Brese said officials might recommend increasing the price for A+, which costs about $55 per month for parents, bus fares, which are 35 cents for a one-way trip, and food prices.
The price of lunch for most public school students rose to $1.25 from $1 in July.
School Board Vice Chairwoman Karen Knudsen said she wants to look at all options, including tapping into federal funds and asking lawmakers for an emergency appropriation, before debating fees.
"Our families are being hit and hit in this economy," she said. "I would be very hesitant to start talking about raising fees. That would just be rubbing salt into the wound of the public right now. So I would like to see that delayed as much as possible."
Meanwhile, the Legislature appropriated $49 million to replace some 320 large-capacity cesspools at 60 schools with municipal sewer lines or septic systems as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Failure to close the cesspools by the Sept. 30, 2009, deadline could cost the Education Department daily federal fines of up to $32,500 per cesspool.
Other funds include $66.4 million for school repair and maintenance, $100 million for classroom renovations and money for two new schools -- $800,000 for Ewa Makai Middle and $20 million for Kihei High.
Excluded from the schools budget were requests for $523,723 for random and reasonable-suspicion drug tests of teachers scheduled to start June 30 under a new contract and $300,000 to launch a drug-sniffing dog program approved by the school board in November.