Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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On the rise

The parents of Hawaii public school students face a variety of fee increases

By Mary Vorsino


Parents: Get ready to fork over more money for your child's public school education.

The cost of school breakfast and lunch, after-school care and summer school are all set to increase next year.

School bus fares could also go up again, after increasing this year, to cover a mounting shortfall.

All those fee increases are coming down at a time when many families continue to struggle with job losses and pay cuts - and when some parents say they are least able to afford them.

"For many families I think it's going to be pretty stressful," said Calvin Endo, the parent liaison at Waianae High School and education chairman on the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board.

Endo said he is hearing concerns from more and more parents about rising fees.

"Why all these increases are coming, at a time when the economy is not showing any improvement, I don't understand."

Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi said he is also worried about how the fee increases will affect families.

"As a whole the board sees it as kind of a back-against-the-wall reaction," he said. "Nobody wants to (increase fees)."

The increases come on the heels of rising fees this year: In 2010 the cost of a school lunch jumped to $2.20 from $1.25; breakfast prices went to 95 cents from 35 cents; and school bus fares rose to 75 cents each way, from 35 cents.

Now the Department of Education is proposing to increase the cost of school lunches an additional 15 cents a day, to $2.35, and raise the price of breakfast 5 cents, to $1.

The national average price for school lunch last year was $1.87 for elementary schools and $2.13 for high schools, according to the School Nutrition Association.

On Thursday the Board of Education will vote on the school breakfast and lunch increases. The board has already approved fee increases for the A+ after-school program - boosting the cost for a family's first child to $80 a month, from $55.

Summer school will also be pricier this year, with parents having to shell out $190 (compared with $160 last year).

And DOE officials warn that higher fees are likely to come down for school bus transportation to make up for a growing shortfall.

Last year the DOE anticipated it would have to boost school bus fares to $1 each way next year, but that proposal has not moved forward.

In addition to raising fares this year, the DOE did away with a host of bus routes.

DOE officials point out that even with the fee increases, aimed at covering costs at a time when the department is grappling with budget cuts, fees still do not cover all the costs for school lunch, after-school, summer school and transportation programs.

They also say parents went years without increases to programs such as A+, and emphasized that fees for low-income families are not rising.

The reduced price for school lunches will remain 40 cents.

In a memo to the Board of Education, schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said the fee increases for breakfast and lunches would generate an additional $1.3 million per year.

In school year 2009-10 the DOE served 9.9 million breakfasts and lunches to students.

Toguchi said he understands why the department is eyeing fee increases, but is concerned about their effects on "gap-group" families, or those considered just above the low-income designation.

He questioned why the department cannot institute a sliding scale based on income, at the very least for the A+ program.

A+, created in 1989 to decrease the number of latchkey kids, serves about 22,500 public school students.

Jill Tao, parent of a second-grader at Noelani Elementary School, said she is concerned about how the increases will affect families.

She said previous increases in school breakfast costs have greatly reduced the number of kids eating a morning meal at the school.

"As for A+, which we use for all working days, the fee hike will hurt, but we will probably be able to absorb the cost," she said. "But it's a substantial increase, and I hope that they can offer some offset to families that are really struggling."

Tao added that in tough economic times, lots of families are trying to cut costs wherever they can, and the fee increases will be hard to swallow.

"The timing stinks," she said. "It's just one more little thing. For parents who are struggling, this can mean the difference."

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