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Thursday, September 7, 2000

City & County of Honolulu

Harris: City has
expertise, so it should
build, repair schools

Education would remain a
state duty, but the city would
handle 'bricks and mortar,'
the mayor says

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Mayor Jeremy Harris wants the city to take over the construction, repair and maintenance of Oahu's 170 or so public schools.

Harris said he believes the schools would be better serviced by the city because handling "bricks and mortar" operations is what it does best.

Mayoral opponent Mufi Hannemann, who deems himself a champion of education issues, dismissed Harris' idea as off base.

Construction of public schools, as well as repair and maintenance, is handled by the state Department of Accounting and General Services.

"You have one state agency that runs facilities, but they're so big, they're so enormous, that schools are just one other thing that they're responsible for," Harris told the Star-Bulletin's editorial board yesterday.

Decisions about curriculum and priorities for construction and repairs would remain under the purview of the state Department of Education, the mayor said.

He emphasized that he has not worked out the financial aspects of how the city would be compensated.

Raymond Sato, state comptroller and head of DAGS, declined to comment on the Harris idea but took offense at the suggestion that public school facilities are not being given proper attention.

His department's Central Services Division, with a $7 million budget for salaries and 230 carpenters, plumbers and other mostly trades workers, deals exclusively with the repair and maintenance of public schools, Sato said.

About 95 percent of the design, engineering and planning work done by the 130 employees in the Public Works Division involves education projects, he said.

"I think they're doing a good job," he said. "DAGS has been working with DOE for years and years. Both sides know the style and way both sides work."

Hannemann said the Harris plan to take over DOE plant facilities shows "a lack of understanding of what the root of the problem is," and predicted it would meet with strong resistance from state officials.

Hannemann said the only reason Harris is taking a position on education is because of his own initiatives.

Hannemann wants the city to better coordinate work on playgrounds and other recreational facilities with state agencies to avoid duplication, expand city summer fun to include arts education and technology/computer training programs, and actively seek donations for the education community.

Harris said he first publicly proposed transferring Oahu's education facilities to the city in 1998 when he believed that was one of the issues that should be addressed by a state constitutional convention. He also believes all roads and parks on Oahu should be under the city's wing.

City & County of Honolulu

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