Budget head fires at schools' chief


POSTED: Friday, March 27, 2009

State Budget Director Georgina Kawamura defended the Lingle administration's plan to swap $90 million in state funds with $90 million in federal stimulus money, blasting the public schools superintendent for saying it would not work and could harm the schools.

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Kawamura said she and other top administration officials briefed Superintendent Pat Hamamoto last Friday about the budget-balancing plan and did not hear any complaints.

Then Wednesday, Hamamoto said if the stimulus money does not arrive on time, the state schools would have to close early because they would run out of money.

“;I am very disappointed in her behavior,”; Kawamura said, adding that she thinks Hamamoto “;wanted to create panic and anxiety.”;

On “;Island Insights”; last night on Hawaii Public Television, Hamamoto said she stood by her statements and she fears that there will not be enough money for next year because of budget cuts.

If the governor takes the $90 million from the department, it will take care of the state's immediate deficit, but it will not leave any money to restore school programs next year, she said.

“;Yes, that does bother me,”; she said. “;What do we do for the next two years? Because schools will still be there, and we're still going to have our students on our doorsteps.

“;How will we provide for them very basic and fundamental programs?”; she asked. “;This federal stimulus money is to restore and replace money that was reduced because of the state's financial and fiscal crisis.”;

Speaking of the state school board members who also criticized the Lingle plan, Kawamura said, “;They wanted to show how irresponsible they were.”;

Earlier this week, Hamamoto told school board members that she could not make up a pay lag.

“;If the money doesn't come in, we can't make the payroll, from superintendent on down,”; Hamamoto said “;We are not agreeable to using next year's money for this year's shortfall.”;

But Kawamura said yesterday she is confident that the state could advance the Department of Education the money, if the federal stimulus money does not come on time.

“;The DOE does not lose one penny. For them to make such false statements is so unprofessional and irresponsible,”; Kawamura said during an afternoon news conference.

Asked what parents of public school students should do in the face of Hamamoto's fears that she will have to shut schools early, Kawamura said not to pay attention to the superintendent.

“;I would say to parents that they shouldn't listen to her,”; she said.

When Kawamura met with Hamamoto last Friday, “;there was no outcry,”; Kawamura said.

“;We walked her through these numbers. There was no outcry,”; she said, but she added that education officials thought the federal surplus would result in the schools getting extra money.

Because of the state's budget shortfall, the federal stimulus money is being used by Lingle to make up for money lost by declining revenue projections, not to start new projects, Kawamura said.

“;We are restoring the money, replacing it,”; she said.

In response to Kawamura's remarks, Hamamoto said last night, “;She said what she said. I know what I do and what I need to do, and I'll just leave it at that.”;

Hamamoto had said the $90 million had to be available to the Department of Education by May 6. Kawamura said yesterday the governor has the flexibility to advance the money from the state treasury so that the Department of Education would not need to close early, as Hamamoto had threatened.


Star-Bulletin reporter Rob Shikina contributed to this report.