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DOE chief charts cuts to buses and programs

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To meet proposed budget reductions for the coming fiscal year, the Department of Education is considering getting rid of school bus service on Oahu, slashing the amount of per-student funding that schools receive by up to 6 percent and eliminating $11 million for special programs.

Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi told the Board of Education yesterday that all the options are painful — and that some could include layoffs. She also said the fiscal picture will likely only worsen as the state sees tourism dollars drop in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The proposed cost-cutting options were drawn up to show lawmakers what a $110 million reduction in funding would mean to the Department of Education over the coming biennium. A draft budget approved by the House last week would reduce DOE’s funding request by $55 million in both fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

Matayoshi said that $110 million reduction — which accounts for about 4 percent of the department’s operating budget — is probably "significantly less" than the hit the department will take once new projections are drawn up to include the impact the disasters in Japan will have on the state’s economy.

She also stressed that it’s still early in the budget process.

"We’re just trying to tell people what the implications would be" of the budget reductions, she said.

Board of Education members said the funding cuts would hurt an already strapped department.

"Your scenarios to me are draconian," said BOE member John Pene­backer. "Everyone was worried about (teacher) furloughs. This is going to be even worse."

Last school year, to meet budget reductions, students lost 17 instructional days to teacher furloughs, a move that drew protests from parents and gave Hawaii’s education system a black eye.

BOE Chairman Garrett Togu­chi said to avoid another furloughs debacle, the public should get involved in the budget proc­ess now, before it’s too late to fight for more money.

The department presented two scenarios for cutting expenses to meet $110 million in budget reductions.

Under the first scenario, the DOE would eliminate $11 million in funding for "categorical programs" such as athletics, after-school tutoring programs and programs for at-risk students; cut student bus serv­ice on Oahu; and reduce weighted student formula funding by $22 million.

Under a second scenario, the department would eliminate student bus service and reduce per-student funding by $43 million, which translates into a 6 percent reduction in funding for schools through the weighted student formula.

The department is also eyeing other options, including raising the price of school lunch to $3.18 from $2.35. That would bring in an additional $5 million, the DOE said.

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