Friday, January 25, 2002

State of Hawaii

Budget cuts
in education
‘to get deeper’

Cuts of $21.5 million mean higher
A+ fees and fewer class tools

By Lisa Asato

Parents will pay more for the A+ after-school program and teachers may have to dig deeper into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies because of budget cuts to the state Department of Education.

The state Board of Education last night agreed with the department's proposals on where to slash $21.5 million over the current fiscal year and next.

But now the state Legislature is asking all departments to brace for additional cuts in the fiscal year that begins July 1. While classroom instruction largely has been spared in this round of cuts, public schools superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said any more cuts would have dire consequences.

"It means now we are going to start to affect teachers, staff, programs and students," she said after the board meeting last night. "You're going to affect services to students now. It's going to get deeper."

The governor asked the Education Department to slash $7.1 million in its current budget to deal with $152 million in anticipated lost tax revenues following the Sept. 11 attacks. The department also had to cut its next year's budget by 2 percent, or $14.4 million.

"The 14 (million) hurts; anything beyond the 14 will hurt even more. You're really impacting education and outcomes," Hamamoto said.

Last night, the board agreed with the department's recommendations on where those cuts would occur. For the average student the cuts may mean fewer field trips, doing "dry science lab (experiments) instead of a real science lab" and going without additional art supplies, she said.

For the current year, more than $5 million will come from federal funds tied to the state's relationship with the military. Those funds, which the department uses to meet shortfalls in areas such as buying textbooks, will now go to the state general fund. Another $1.4 million will come from halting new programs passed by the Legislature last year, including the school-to-work program and fine-arts resource teachers. The board approved those cuts last month.

On top of those restrictions, the department faces an $8 million shortfall in the current year to respond to the Felix consent decree to improve services for special-needs students. Among other things, the department will try to shore up the money by delaying hiring, Hamamoto told the board. She said more details would be available in late February or March.

As for the next fiscal year, the A+ after-school program will be slashed by more than 25 percent, meaning parents will have to pay more. "We have to increase the fees of A+ to keep the program," Hamamoto said.

She also said "there may be some" teacher positions cut, depending on factors such as lower enrollment.

Other affected programs include cutting $660,369 from instructional materials for regular education, meaning teachers may get less to buy classroom supplies, and abolishing a $3.6 million computer education program. Those funds are spread statewide with some schools receiving as little as $1,000 to build infrastructure for computer education, Hamamoto said, adding, "The amount they received were not significant enough to make much of a difference."

No cuts were made in special-education funding.

When deciding the cuts, Hamamoto said she kept in mind program quality, and above everything else, the breadth of the program. "If this is a single program that supports 20 students as opposed to a program that supports all students, I will keep the program that supports all the students rather than the program that supports the small number of students," she said.

Lawmakers have given the department until Thursday to devise a plan to meet possible additional cuts of up to 5 percent -- or $35 million -- for the next fiscal year.

State of Hawaii

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