BOE faces backlash after Special Olympics cuts
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The Board of Education, which recently spared athletics from a $1 million budget cut, is now being criticized for slashing funding for Special Olympics.
The nearly $130,000 cut will make it harder for Special Olympics Hawaii to offer activities for more than 1,000 disabled public school athletes, from paying for ground travel to providing uniforms, said President and Chief Executive Officer Nancy Bottelo.
The state Department of Education recommended chopping Special Olympics funds and trimming money from several programs to comply with a $9.2 million spending restriction.
It said Special Olympics was chosen because it is not part of a student's required academic plan, but at least one school board member plans to have the cut reconsidered.
ALEXANDRE DA SILVA
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When Valery O'Brien's deaf and multihandicap daughter attended public school, Special Olympics Hawaii allowed her not only to play sports, but also learn important social skills.
"They really learn a lot of camaraderie, how to get along with one another, how to lose, how to win," said O'Brien, a coach and leader of the Mighty Ducks, which includes 82 disabled athletes on Oahu.
But O'Brien and others involved in Special Olympics say services for those students are in jeopardy after the Board of Education cut nearly $130,000 for the program.
The reduction represents a small portion of Special Olympics' budget of more than $2 million raised locally, but, according to President and Chief Executive Officer Nancy Bottelo, the state Education Department's money helps pay for coaching clinics for teachers, ground transportation, and uniforms and meals for more than 1,000 public school participants.
"We already knew we were having a bad year," she said. "We were anticipating a $50,000-to-$75,000 deficit this year as it was. So losing this money, it could cripple us."
The Education Department recommended discontinuing participation in Special Olympics and trimming money from several programs to comply with a $9.2 million spending restriction ordered by Gov. Linda Lingle because of the slowing economy.
Education officials had suggested pulling $1 million from athletics toward meeting the shortfall, but the school board rejected that offer and asked for alternatives after an outcry from hundreds of people who said the proposal would have eliminated junior varsity sports.
Debra Farmer, the Education Department's administrator for special education, said Special Olympics was chosen because it is not part of a student's required academic plan.
"(It) is a wonderful program," she said. "However, it's a recreational program for children and adults. I think people understand that hard choices have to be made during bleak budget times. I don't think they are happy, but I think they understand."
Special Olympics Hawaii organizers complain they were unaware their budget was at risk until after the school board's Sept. 4 vote.
"We are really hoping it's not a done deal, although it very well may be," Bottelo said. "These are the children that are not encouraged to be on the JV team or to be on the varsity team. This is all they have. So I think there's a much bigger issue of how do you cut the only sport program for people with disabilities."
Breene Harimoto, chairman of the school board's Budget Committee, said yesterday that he would ask during a meeting Thursday to have the board reconsider the Special Olympics cuts.
A message on the home page of the organization's Web site criticizes the school board for wiping out the $129,925 in Department of Education Special Olympics funds while leaving $13.3 million for regular school sports intact, saying that "special-education students will be left on the sidelines." The group serves more than 2,000 people from 2 to 81 years old.
Said school board member Garrett Toguchi, who has opposed removing Special Olympics money, "I think that there were valid arguments for maintaining that support. To me there was a misperception ... that, 'Well, these students can just participate in other sports.'"