AIEA (KHNL) - An organization that helps kids with special needs faces a major financial setback Monday. Special Olympics Hawaii's funding from the state Department of Education got cut last Thursday afternoon, leaving many special education programs in jeopardy.
"To have us completely cut out without any knowledge whatsoever beforehand to testify, it was a shock to us," said Nancy Bottelo, president and CEO of Special Olympics Hawaii.
Close to a $130,000 -- the entire Department of Education's Special Olympics budget -- has been eliminated.
Many Special Olympics events take place on the University of Hawaii at Manoa's campus including the Clarence Ching Athletics Complex, as well as other venues. Whether or not future events will take place here is still up in the air. It all depends if the Board of Education decides to stick with its decision.
Sports like basketball help kids develop skills on the playground and let them have fun, but for special needs children, the benefits are much greater.
"It enhances teamwork," said Mae Datuin, the special sports head coach at Waimalu Elementary School in Aiea. "It teaches them rules, following directions, learning how to take turns and playing well with each other and playing nice."
The Department of Education spends $128,925 each year for programs like this, but it recently voted to cut it.
All of the money that comes from the DOE funds programs like this, but if that money's gone, programs like basketball could disappear.
"I'm kind of disappointed it's being cut," said Datuin. "It would help with any of our supplies we would need for Special Olympics, basketball, soccer balls."
The Board of Education says this was purely a financial decision. It's been forced to cut a total of $20 million from school budgets so far this year.
"When we had ample funding, we could fund many different programs, but now that the budget is shrinking, we need to focus on our core programs," said Breene Harimoto, a Board of Education member. "Unfortunately, there are so many good programs we can no longer support."
Special Olympics Hawaii's president and CEO says she is hopeful something can be done to save the program.
"I'm one of those optimists," said Bottelo. "I'm hopeful we can open some dialogue, talk to the Board of Education. I think it was an oversight. I think they just didn't realize what we do and how much we do for the special population."
Harimoto says the Board of Education may not have had complete information when it voted, so it will revisit the issue later this week.
The Board of Education is scheduled to meet Thursday on Maui.
Harimoto says he will move to reconsider, which means there's a chance the vote can be reversed if there are enough votes and the budget committee is also in agreement. But at this point, it's considered a long shot.