Saturday, March 20, 1999

Hawaii public schools
badly need repairs

Bullet The issue: Lahainaluna High and other schools are in poor condition
Bullet Our view: It's a mistake to scrimp on maintenance and repair

The oldest public school in Hawaii -- and the oldest American school west of the Rockies -- is also in the worst physical condition. That would be historic Lahainaluna High School on Maui. It is the only public school in the state to be rated by a citizens inspection team this year as having unacceptable facilities in terms of health and safety.

Lester Chuck, the state's director of educational facilities, agreed with the inspection team that the school definitely has problems -- such as the sewage that sometimes overflows into a health room and other rooms in the student activities building. Chuck said he will try to obtain funds to speed up repairs. But he noted the state House just voted to reduce school repair and maintenance funds to $9.6 million for two years compared with $24.6 million for one year several years ago.

Lahainaluna, of course, isn't the only school needing repairs. Parents of students at Radford High recently complained vehemently about conditions there.

Most Radford students are military dependents. Military families move frequently, which gives them opportunities to compare schools. Some parents said Radford is in the worst condition of any they had seen in their various assignments.

Back in the Waihee administration the Star-Bulletin called attention to the deplorable conditions at several schools and urged more spending on maintenance and repair. There was a positive response, but since then the scrimping on repairs seems to have resumed.

It is folly to build facilities and fail to provide the funds needed to maintain them. It is worse folly to mistreat the public schools this way.

One of the justifications for neglecting maintenance of public facilities is the need to avoid laying off government employees -- the no "warm bodies" policy -- to balance the budget. That seems compassionate until you realize that the government employees unions support the Democratic political establishment, which knows better than to bite the hand that keeps it in power.

If the parents of students at schools that are falling down around them, are unbearable in hot weather with no air conditioning, and lack up-to-date textbooks and computers were to band together and protest, the politicians would be forced to listen -- and do something.


European scandal

Bullet The issue: Investigation found fraud and mismanagement were rife
Bullet Our view: Western European leaders must act quickly to repair the damage

THE 15-nation European Union, Western Europe's economic and political confederation, is in turmoil following the resignation of the entire membership of the commission that runs its affairs and administers its $100 billion budget.

Allegations of fraud and mismanagement have hung over the European Commission for several years. Members of the European Parliament nearly fired the entire executive in January, but held off. Instead they formed a committee of "wise persons" to investigate fiscal irregularities in EU humanitarian programs, training schemes and farm aid.

The committee report, issued Monday, concluded that EU funds were so mismanaged "it is difficult to find anyone who has even the slightest sense of responsibility." The report was so damning it prompted EC President Jacques Santer and the 19 other commissioners to resign. But none took responsibility for the enormous shortcomings outlined in the 140-page report.

Earlier, auditors had found $4 billion missing in 1996 and $5 billion in 1997. The chief auditorreported such extensive fraud and mismanagement he couldn't sign off on the books.

The report accused commissioners of hiring relatives for work they were not competent to do and exercising little control over budgets. Example: Edith Cresson of France, responsible for education and youth programs, employed her hometown dentist and his son at huge salaries to administer an AIDS program for which they had no qualifications. Staggering fraud was discovered in the EU's agricultural subsidy programs.

Western Europe's leaders must act quickly to restore confidence. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the leaderswould talk about procedures for appointing a new commission at a summit meeting in Berlin next week, adding, "It is absolutely necessary to find a good solution."

The resignations provide an opportunity for the EU to clean up its act. If it fails, the future of Western Europe's efforts to build a unified economic bloc will be clouded with doubt.


Laser pointer bill

Bullet The issue: Should you have to be 18 to buy or possess a laser pointer?
Bullet Our view: No

YOU can get a driver's license in Hawaii at 15 but under a bill passed by the Honolulu City Council you would have to be 18 to buy or possess a laser pointer. That doesn't make sense.

Laser pointers are the latest menace to emerge from technology. First used as a presentation tool for business, the pointers have become popular among young people who "tag" each other with the light beams. But they can cause problems such as impaired vision if used improperly.

Legal restrictions on the use of laser pointers seem necessary. The ordinance passed by the Council prohibits use of the devices "in such a manner as would reasonably be expected to annoy, harass or alarm the person or animal." That part of the ordinance is useful.

However, the imposition of an age requirement is overreaching. There are responsible teen-agers who can be trusted to use laser pointers safely. Younger children should not be allowed to play with them, but it should be left to the parents to keep the devices away from them.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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