Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Strike surplus
up for grabs

State and education
departments wrangle
over a windfall of more
than $28 million

By Crystal Kua

The Cayetano administration and state education officials are wrangling over who gets the $28.5 million saved in salaries last month during the public school teachers strike.

Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu told the Board of Education yesterday that most of the savings is needed to cover strike-related expenses and expected shortfalls, including $20 million for special-education services under the federal court-mandated Felix consent decree.

But State Budget Director Neal Miyahira wrote a letter on May 2 to LeMahieu asking that the $28.5 million savings -- or a little more than $2 million for each of the 14 school days that teachers were off the job from April 5-24 -- be reflected in the Department of Education budget and sent back to the state's general fund.

Miyahira also said that the department should calculate other strike-related savings in areas such as bus transportation, school lunch and classroom cleaners. But LeMahieu said there was no savings in some of those areas.

For example, while the department saved a little more than $1 million in school bus transportation, the program is still expected to run a $1.5 million deficit.

LeMahieu also said the DOE incurred about $8.7 million in strike-related costs including pay to nonstriking teachers and special-education costs. He said the department is looking to recoup the costs with the salary savings which would bring the savings figure to about $19.7 million.

The bulk of that amount should help pay the $20 million in additional costs the department needs to comply with the Felix consent decree, LeMahieu said.

"Clearly, the court wants to know that the support will be there," LeMahieu said.

The Legislature appropriated $43 million for the next fiscal year for Felix-related services. But LeMahieu said the department still needs an additional $20 million to carry out plans to bring the public school system into compliance with federal law by improving mental health and educational services to special-needs children.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra was in a tug-of-war with the Legislature this past session over Felix funding and has threatened a federal takeover of the school system if the state fails to meet compliance.

About $15 million should be covered by the salary savings while the remainder would come from other funding. That would leave $4 million from the salary savings to return to the general fund.

"What we want to do is to present to the governor a complete and honest accounting," LeMahieu told the board yesterday.

He said that the department would present its response to the state Budget Department but Gov. Ben Cayetano has the power to restrict any amount from the department's budget.

The board's Budget and Fiscal Accountability Committee approved the department's plans.

The full board will vote on the matter tomorrow.

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