Schools to take
$3 million hit

Less money will go
for supplies, equipment
and part-time teachers

Hawaii's public schools will get $3 million less than expected for the first quarter of the school year, meaning fewer dollars for supplies, equipment and casual hires, including part-time teachers.

At its meeting last night, the Board of Education reluctantly approved the spending restriction imposed by Gov. Linda Lingle's administration, saying they had no choice but to do so to get money out to schools right away. Some year-round schools open as early as next week.

"Actually tax revenues are up, but the amount we're taking is a huge hit," said Vice Chairwoman Karen Knudsen.

The $3 million figure represents a nearly 20 percent reduction in costs for a range of what are known as "categorical programs," including vocational education, athletics and Hawaiian-language immersion, as well as administrative costs. Money to expand the safety manager programs to more middle and high schools was cut to zero.

Board members expressed frustration with the shortfall, saying Hawaii's public schools already operate with less than their counterparts across the country.

"We have statistics that support our stance that we should not be hit at all," said board member Carol Gabbard. "We need to make that clear to the governor, and we need to get legislative support and community support to fight this cut."

Earlier in the meeting, board members heard data from the Superintendent's Annual Report for 2002, which said Hawaii ranks last among the states in the percentage of state and local expenditures allocated to public schools.

Hawaii's per-pupil expenditures of $6,775 for 2001-2002 school year are 10 percent below the national average of $7,524, according to the Digest of Education Statistics. The proportion of professional staff performing administrative functions in Hawaii is 2.2 percent, compared with a national average of 3.9 percent, the same source shows.

Rather than getting their annual funding for the year upfront, schools are being given only enough for the first three months of this fiscal year, which started July 1. The administration is waiting to see what the Council on Revenues projects at its next meeting, in September, before releasing any more money.

Principal Jane Serikaku, of Iliahi Elementary School in Wahiawa, who was on campus yesterday preparing for students to return to school Wednesday, said she is bracing for a funding shortfall but does not know what to expect yet.

"There's no question that if there's any cut, it's going to hurt us," she said. "We just have to make our adjustments. We're praying that it's not going to be a big cut."

Finance Director Georgina Kawamura has asked the Department of Education to prepare for up to $20 million in cuts to its budget this year. The $3 million spending restriction represents the first quarter of a $12 million annual cut.

The department's total budget is $1.4 billion, but much of that covers payroll for full-time staff and funds for special education, and is shielded from the restrictions.


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