Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, September 11, 1997

by Bishop Estate

"IT shows that our departments take their budgets seriously," a Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate spokesman told me. What we were talking about is a sign on the door of the KS/BE office No. 102 in the Hilo Lagoon Building, Hilo.

It read: "Please do not leave financial aid documents under the door. We have depleted our postage supply and are unable to forward the documents to Honolulu to meet the May 15, 1997, deadline. Mahalo."

A Star-Bulletin letter reader made a snapshot of the sign and sent it to us. He was bemused by it. So, he said, was the postman, who said it had been up for some time before May 15 but also stayed up afterward.

Is rich, massive KS/BE that stingy on stamps for those it was created to help?

Kekoa Paulsen of the KS/BE public relations program said the office in question was being pelted with applications slipped under its door that had nothing to do with its area of responsibility. It was a financial aid office, but was being asked to forward applications for pre-school and high school admissions outside its responsibility. Thus the sign.

The above may be no more than embarrassing penny-pinching by one of the richest estates in America, but it contrasts with lavish spending elsewhere on posh new offices for trustees, thousands for trustee trips to China and elsewhere to check their far-flung investments, and millions on legal fees, a portion of which authors of "Broken Trust" say should have been borne by the trustees personally.

The trustees accept only about half of the 2 percent of income allowed them by a state law enacted when no one foresaw today's wealth. But they still do a five-way split of more than $4 million a year to draw over $800,000 each.

Many critics say they should take much less. If they, for instance, took only $200,000 each that would allow a 3 percent increase in the $100 million educational budget at the Kamehameha Schools. Foundation trustees nationwide work for much less.

In 1995 the KS/BE trustees made a key policy U-turn. They decided to make Kamehameha Schools an academically elite system like Punahou and Iolani plus satellite neighbor island campuses for lower grades. They dropped a far-reaching outreach program, costing around $11 million, aimed to help all Hawaiian youngsters regardless of academic ability, starting with expectant mothers.

Outreach had been strongly supported by trustees Myron Thompson and Matsuo Takabuki. With them off the board a new majority rated outreach as not cost-effective and jettisoned every contact below age 4, plus others.

THOMPSON, former state social services director, had reports from distinguished foundations like Ford and Carnegie saying early intervention is key, but the new majority decided to focus on a core of 4,000 Hawaiians whereas outreach had touched 30,000 at least lightly.

Part of the schism between the four other current trustees and trustee Oswald Stender came as a result of Stender's joining in a unanimous vote for the change, then publicly criticizing it. He says it was only after the fact that he found the estate could afford both elitism and outreach, and at least keep the best of the jettisoned programs.

Thompson often observed that training an alienated youth might cost $7,000 a year for a few years but keeping him in prison for life could cost society a million. Success was hard to prove with this program but much easier to demonstrate with early child care.

Bishop Estate Archive

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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