Thursday, June 7, 2001

State of Hawaii

DOE plans to
cut $11 million

The superintendent may
request trims to offset an
expected $57 million shortfall

Playground equipment delayed

By Crystal Kua

State Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu is seeking to cut $11 million from next year's Department of Education Budget to help make up for a projected $57 million budget shortfall, caused in part by the April teachers strike and the resulting collective-bargaining agreement.

In a May 29 memo, state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu told the Board of Education that he has federal funding and other potential money sources to cover all but $14 million of that shortfall.

LeMahieu was expected to ask the board at its meeting today on Kauai for approval to offset the remainder with about $3 million in budget restrictions and $11 million in new cuts.

Board member Karen Knudsen, chairwoman of the board's Budget Committee, said others on the board would like to know why and where the cuts will be made.

"I think they have a couple of questions about these things," Knudsen said.

LeMahieu gave the board a list of what he called "projected needs" for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that are either operating in the red, such as school bus service, or are unbudgeted for different reasons. The total cost of those needs amounts to $57 million.

"The department seeks to manage the shortfalls and unbudgeted items using a variety of funding sources, including carryover balances, federal funds and general funds restrictions," LeMahieu told the board in the memo.

More than a third of that amount is associated with the three-week walkout by schoolteachers in the spring and the agreement they reached with the state.

These strike-related costs include $9.2 million in expenses incurred by the department during the strike and more than $13 million to implement new sections of the teachers' contract including a new professional salary schedule, a peer-assistance program and involvement in a national certification program.

Other unbudgeted items contributing to the shortfall include $16 million that the Legislature decided not to fund in the department's request for special-education services under the Felix consent decree, $5.6 million for charter schools and $1.6 million for the school bus service.

LeMahieu says he has more than $22 million in federal funding and other resources to offset most of the shortfall, and he plans to ask the Legislature next session for a $20 million emergency appropriation.

For the estimated $14 million remainder, he will continue to hold back the $3.4 million he has restricted in the current year's budget for items such as summer school instruction.

The remaining $11 million will come from yet unspecified new cuts to the budget.

Knudsen said she expects board members to ask the superintendent where those cuts will be made.

Budget constraints
delay playground
repairs at 50 schools

By Crystal Kua

Three years after broken and unsafe playground equipment was dismantled, students at dozens of public elementary school will likely have to wait at least two more years to get new play structures.

That timetable has parents and others worried about what the delay in getting the equipment will mean for schoolchildren.

John Friedman, president of the Hawaii State Parents, Teachers and Students Association, said soon an entire group of children will have grown up without playground equipment.

"Our children have been without playground equipment far too long," Friedman said. "We are deeply saddened that we have deprived our children of this essential element of well-rounded academic experience."

Acting Assistant Superintendent Al Suga told a Board of Education committee yesterday that the $3 million appropriated by the Legislature last year for playground equipment will fund only 30 of the 80 schools that have submitted design plans. That's because the cost comes to about $100,000 per playground.

That leaves about 50 schools, which will have to wait until the Legislature comes up with more money.

Suga told the Support Services Committee that state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu is planning to lobby the Legislature for additional funds. "It's going to take a couple of years of funding before we can execute the entire plan."

Suga said the first equipment will be erected in October at Alvah A. Scott Elementary School in Aiea.

Friedman said earlier estimates put the cost at $50,000 per school, which meant that 60 schools would have been able to get play equipment.

He said costs for construction, a protective ground mat to prevent serious injuries and the differing needs of the schools are factors in the rising cost of the projects.

Friedman said his group estimates that it will take $30 million to handle all elementary schools needing playground equipment. "We believe they shouldn't underestimate the cost."

Board members were also concerned about the delay and the cost involved and suggested that the process be made more efficient by having about four kinds of equipment that schools could choose from.

While Friedman said he would also like to see the process streamlined, he is concerned that schools may be asked to choose between a handful of standardized equipment instead of tailoring the equipment to the needs of the schools and the needs of the students, which vary by age group and school.

Friedman said schools went through several workshops and months of planning to come up with the right playground configuration based on national standards, and he hates to see that go to waste. "I just hope we can get the process moving very, very quickly."

State of Hawaii

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