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BOE approves proposed $1.5B budget

The state Board of Education on Thursday approved a proposed $1.5 billion operating budget that will drastically reduce the state Department of Education’s spending in the upcoming fiscal biennium as Hawaii faces significant revenue losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposed budget includes about $264 million in cuts over the next two fiscal years.

Action on the matter came during a special board meeting held Thursday following a meeting of the board’s Finance and Infrastructure Committee.

“We have a lot of public interest in this, and I do understand that everyone is very concerned about the severe cuts that are reflected in the budget proposal that was passed by the committee,” Board Chairwoman Catherine Payne said. “First, I want to emphasize that this is not the last of the budget discussion.”

Payne said the DOE has worked in collaboration with complex area leaders, chair and vice chair of the Finance and Infrastructure Committee and others, but the levels of cuts were determined by Gov. David Ige’s administration.

“While this is the first time we’ve discussed this budget, I want everyone to understand that this is the first stop where we are involved,” Payne said.

While acknowledging the cuts will be painful, Payne said she continues to be frustrated by comments about the DOE being “so top heavy that it’s about to tip over.”

“We really need people to understand that cuts are being made at state and district officers, and cuts were made even before this time. … We could put all of the money from state and district offices into schools, and we would still have drastic cuts.

“… The reality of what is happening to our state and to our schools is devastating,” she continued. “I personally feel despair more than hope on most days as I think about who will suffer the most over the next several years, because this is not one year that we’re talking about. The governor has talked about at least four years of this level of cuts.”

A DOE spokeswoman said the budget proposal is for two years beginning July 1, 2021.

The department will submit the board-approved budget to Gov. David Ige and state Department of Budget and Finance for consideration.

Ige will release a proposed executive budget for all state departments later this month, she explained, and the state Legislature will then use that proposed budget as a starting point for when the legislative session opens in January.

The governor has imposed measures to control state expenditures, including restrictions in the current fiscal year budget because of the revenue losses related to pandemic, state Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a memo to committee Chairman Kenneth Uemura.

What was initially expected to be a one-time $100.2 million reduction of general operating funds will be carried forward into the upcoming fiscal biennium, the memo states. The DOE also will implement an additional 10% reduction, for a total general fund reduction of approximately 15% in the coming years.

Kishimoto said in the memo that the DOE’s proposed operating budget includes adjustments for collective bargaining amounts, nonrecurring funding, and recommendations for a 10% general fund reduction amounting to about $164.3 million.

Email Stephanie Salmons at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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