‘This is crazy’: Analysis finds billions in schools construction money unspent

School leaders say it's because the pandemic delayed projects but critics say they should have found solutions.
Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 8:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than $2 billion in school construction is going unspent, Hawaii News Now has learned, and nearly half of that money is set to lapse next year.

“That to me is something that to me is totally unacceptable. We know we can do better and accepting mediocrity is to me something like accepting an F,” said Republican state Rep. Gene Ward.

The money is for hundreds of DOE projects that the state Legislature appropriated for school construction.

“This is crazy when we have a massive repair and maintenance backlog ... I mean, there’s there’s just no imaginable excuse for this,” said Colin Moore, a University of Hawaii political science professor.

“I’m sure that many other departments across the state would be very happy to take some of this money off the DOE’s hands.”

The state Department of Education said the amount of unspent capital improvement funds doubled during the past three years due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, permit hold-ups and supply chain disruptions.

“We got jammed up during the pandemic. They were not able to fulfill all the different projects on campus during that time,” said the DOE’s Deputy Superintendent of Operations Curt Otaguro.

Otaguro added that he doesn’t think the bulk of the nearly $1 billion in funding will lapse next year because the department has already started work on about 70% of those projects.

“If a project needs to be lapsed and reappropriated — and we communicate this to the Legislature —everybody’s understanding to that is yes, yes, yes,” said Otaguro.

But critics said the pandemic shouldn’t be an excuse for delaying construction.

In fact, many private companies and government agencies stepped up construction during the lock downs because their buildings were empty.

They added that delaying school construction even more will hurt the students.

“Kids have to go to schools that are in disrepair,” said Moore.

“This seems to me that it’s become a crisis that needs to be dealt with at the highest level.”