Kindergarten spared, but education budget cut another $16 million

Published: Jun. 7, 2011 at 10:17 PM HST
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By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The new Board of Education had its first finance meeting today and voted to go with the Department of Education recommendation to subtract another $16.4 million from the budget.

Not only will schools have less to work with but adult education was cut and A+ fees were raised.  And to show just how extreme the budget crisis has become the Department of Education even considered cutting kindergarten.

Eliminating kindergarten would save the state $68 million.  They looked at it because kindergarten isn't mandatory.  However kindergarten does provide a valuable foundation for students which is why they decided to keep the grade in place and avoid what would have been a big outcry.

"It would have been huge and it would have been well founded. We know the early years are critical to learning," said Kathryn Matayoshi, Department of Education Superintendent.

"The department if it ever goes back to considering (cutting) kindergarten, please don't," said Mark Dannog, Board of Education Student Member.

While kindergarten was spared, adult education was not.  Nearly $5.1 million was cut which means in fiscal year 2013 the department will have to find other ways to fund things like GED courses, English as a second language and citizenship classes. Ideally it would like to make adult education self sustaining, which would mean raising the price to take certain courses, in particular recreational classes.

Also the committee approved raising A+ fees another $5 from $80 to $85.  The discount for siblings was also dropped. The discount was $5 for the second student in the family and $10 for each additional child. Now they would all pay the same $85.  However it wouldn't affect low income students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, because their costs are already subsidized. The rate hike still needs to pass a vote by the full Board.

The new board also wants to look at the DOE structure, believing it may be too top heavy.  There are 62 architects and engineers working on $150 million worth of capital improvement projects. The department says it's been like that the past six years.

They also want to know why it appears the department is bleeding money in construction costs, and used the $9.6 million cost to build Ewa Elementary school as an example.

"We need to understand why is it costing us over a $1,000 a foot to build a classroom of the future? That's an unacceptable number when Kamehameha Schools is paying significantly less than that, Iolani School is paying significantly less than that. Mid Pac is paying less than that, I know it because I chaired the construction committees. I don't understand why we're paying three times what the other private schools are paying or what the other guys are paying. It's not acceptable. You need to find out why it's costing us that," said Don Horner, Board of Education Chair, during the meeting to Superintendent Matayoshi and her staff.  "We really don't have the budget to do things like we did before. The public expected change from us and we need change from you folks."

"It kind of shows with their business mind, someone like Mr. Horner is really saying hey wait a minute, let's look at all the elements. Does that really make sense, is there a better way to do things? We welcome that," said Matayoshi after the meeting.

Also budget related.  There's still no agreement with the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the teacher's union but the superintendent today said she expects a five percent savings on labor costs.

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.