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Friday, November 17, 2000

Gov, BOE
disagree on school
budget increase

Board members say Felix
consent decree costs now
vie with regular interests

By Crystal Kua

State budget officials are recommending more public school funding, but the increase will mostly come in items the Department of Education did not ask for.

The Board of Education last month approved a $166 million increase to the public schools' budget request over the next two fiscal years.

The proposed budget seeks an additional $77 million for the 2001-2002 fiscal year beginning in July and $89 million the following year.

The Department of Budget and Finance came up with roughly $196 million in additional funding for the two years by taking a small amount wanted by the department, adding it to $80 million for Felix consent decree costs and then including $100 million in funding Gov. Ben Cayetano wants.

Only $7 million of those requests for the first year and $9 million for the second-year requests were approved by the Board of Education.

Assistant Superintendent Laurel Johnston said the amount for the Felix mandates for special education was not included in the $166 million approved by the school board. The Department of Education submitted preliminary figures on Felix-related costs at the request of budget officials.

"We didn't officially request it," Johnston said. "But (Budget and Finance) told us we had to submit something."

Board of Education members said they wanted Felix costs to remain separate from other budgetary requests because they did not want special-education budget items to compete with regular-education interests.

Johnston said the department is still gathering firm figures on what those Felix costs are.

The state is striving to meet a federal court order to improve mental health and education services to special-needs students. The school board learned yesterday that one more complex of schools, Farrington High School, is in compliance and another complex, Kailua High School, has been granted provisional compliance, for a total of 12 of 41 complexes statewide either in full or provisional compliance.

The other increases recommended by budget officials include items Cayetano wants in the budget totaling $66 million for the first year and $34 million in the second.

The items proposed by the governor include $4.5 million for textbooks, $21.3 million for computers and $6.2 million for computer infrastructure. The governor's proposal also includes $42 million for Department of Health school services that will be taken over by the Department of Education, $6.2 million for salary shortfalls and a $20 million "lump sum adjustment" that the department could use for anything, including any further salary shortfalls.

Johnston said the recommendations by budget officials are preliminary and the governor has the final say over what is in and out. So Education Department officials will try to persuade the governor to restore some of their requests.

"We have a lot of work ahead," board member Herbert Watanabe said at a meeting yesterday.

Yesterday's meeting was also the last for three BOE members not re-elected - Mitsugi Nakashima, Ron Nakano and Garrett Toguchi - as well as one member who did not seek re-election, Noemi Pendleton.

The board's Dec. 7 meeting on Maui will be the first meeting for its new members.

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