Education board had to act in face of budget cuts


POSTED: Friday, October 09, 2009

Hawaii's public school students, parents and residents became upset and concerned after learning teachers had ratified a new two-year contract that will lead to 17 fewer school days per year.

They have asked why — if teachers, the Board of Education and Department of Education, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the governor cared about students — weren't waiver days, holidays, or vacation used for furloughs? Why aren't expenditures being cut elsewhere before we shortchange students? How about a straight pay cut for teachers?

Four months ago, when the state Council on Revenues projected Hawaii's economy would fare worse than expected, I cautioned that “;any more cuts (to public education) would dramatically impact school operations.”;

Four days later, Gov. Linda Lingle reduced the Education Department's budget by an additional $270.3 million, or the equivalent of 36 furlough days a year, to close the budget gap.

To preserve school funding, the BOE proposed that the governor and the Legislature tap the estimated $40 million “;rainy day”; fund and the $185 million Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund, or enact a slight, temporary raise in the general excise tax. As early as June 19, I publicly warned that schools could lose 13 or more days if nothing was done.

As unions challenged the governor's furlough directive, the board and the department faced the task of determining how to maintain educational services with a $468 million shortfall over two years. Given that only 5 percent of the department's $1.8 billion budget is spent on administration, it was clear that schools and students would be impacted.

In July, with lawmakers showing no interest in a special session and school administrators anxious for a budget to welcome students for a new academic year, the board had to act. We reduced expenditures by $226.8 million by streamlining programs, eliminating more than 239 positions, closing Wailupe Valley School, and reducing funds for materials and equipment. Of that amount, $117.4 million would have to come from labor savings.

So the board worked with the Education Department, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the governor to come up with a contract that would minimize disruptions to school operations, keep people employed and focus on educating students.

While the contract has led to a public outcry, I have been encouraged by the passion of individuals and organizations offering to help care for our students.

It has been just as inspiring to witness principals and teachers immediately start to brainstorm ways to address the reduction in instructional time. I thank them, and I hope Hawaii residents will join my call to have the state utilize special funds or raise revenue to restore the resources that our teachers and students deserve.


Garrett Toguchi is chairman of the state Board of Education.