Per-pupil money schools receive will be cut by nearly $8 million, and direct funding to popular programs such as learning centers and adult education will be eliminated as part of the state Department of Education’s plan to tackle a $32.8 million budget reduction over the next two fiscal years.
Education officials said Tuesday the cuts are the product of a round of difficult discussions about what more can be cut in a department that has seen its annual general-fund operating budget shrink by $132 million through the last four years.
SLICING SCHOOL PROGRAMS
In addition to reducing allocations to schools through the weighted student formula by $7.8 million, the state Board of Education has approved eliminating funds for the following programs to help tackle a $32.8 million shortfall through the next two fiscal years:
» What they offer: Learning centers are modeled after the “school within a school” concept, and they revolve around different focuses, including performing arts, business, health and international studies.
ADULT EDUCATION PROGRAM
» What they offer: Adult education offered through community schools is primarily designed to help people attain a competency-based high school diploma or a GED. Students who are still high school age opt to go to adult education programs for a variety of reasons, but there are also many returning students, some in their 60s.
ALTERNATIVE LEARNING PROGRAMS
» What they offer: For students in danger of dropping out or failing, alternative learning programs offer a more structured environment and give students extra help on problems they are struggling with, from time management to credit recovery.
Taken off the table — but still considered — was elimination of kindergarten (which is not mandatory), reducing student transportation services greatly or making a 13 percent across-the-board cut to programs.
What’s being planned instead is a list of program cuts and funding reallocations that Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on schools already struggling to meet rising expectations and more difficult mandates with fewer dollars.
"None of it is easy. None of it is desired," Matayoshi told Board of Education members Tuesday in presenting her budget plans. She said more cuts are likely on the way as the Abercrombie administration works to cover a budget shortfall and additional funding reductions for next fiscal year.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the board approved the department’s recommendations for where the $32.8 million in budget reductions for the upcoming biennium (fiscal 2011-2013) should be made, while urging the department to think more holistically about its budget and where efficiencies can be found while ensuring that wherever possible school-level funding is protected.
"We appreciate the difficult task they have," said board Chairman Don Horner. "But at the end of the day, these are challenging times. I think we need to revisit the way we do business."
Wesley Lo, chairman of the board’s Finance and Infrastructure Committee, said approving the budget reductions plan "is a very difficult thing for us."
He added, "I would expect further cuts. Within the next month we’re probably going to be scrambling."
As part of its plan to meet the funding reductions, the department will:
» Slash $7.78 million from the weighted student formula, the funds schools get for each student enrolled. This averages to an approximate funding cut of $28,000 for each of the state’s 286 schools.
The department pointed out that until now the weighted student formula has largely been sheltered from cuts.
» Eliminate funds for adult education, which served about 9,000 students in 2010. Adult education will have a one-year reprieve before its general fund allocation — about $5 million — is cut in fiscal year 2013. The department said it will use the time to figure out how to save the program, perhaps entirely through course fees, cutting the number of community schools and offering fewer courses.
» Transfer $1.5 million for learning centers and about $3 million for alternative learning programs to the weighted student formula, giving principals the authority to decide whether the programs should continue to be funded.
Supporters, more than 40 of whom submitted oral or written testimony at the board meeting, said this funding change could end many or all of the state’s learning centers because principals are already cash-strapped and have so many other financial demands.
"There has to be some other way," said Karen Meyer, director of the Castle High performing arts learning center, which was established in 1987 and has 318 students, 20 percent of whom come from other Oahu schools. "This would essentially dissolve the learning centers."
WHERE THE AX WILL FALL
As part of a plan to tackle $32.8 million in budget reductions through the next two fiscal years, the state Department of Education plans to:
» Reduce funds allocated to schools through the weighted student formula by $7.8 million.
» Eliminate general fund appropriations for the adult education program, school community councils and the accreditation/school improvement program.
» Move certain categorical programs into the weighted student formula. Those programs include popular learning centers for the arts and sciences.
» Reduce the nonsalary budget for the Lahainaluna boarding program by 10 percent.
» Reduce the nonsalary amounts for most other programs by 2.5 percent.
To see the full budget breakdown, go to www.hawaiiboe.net.
Learning centers were designed under the "school within a school" model, and revolve around a central theme, such as business, health, technology or the arts. Twenty-five high schools have such centers, some of which have received high honors for their programs and attracted students from other campuses.
"The learning center has been a positive thing for me because before, I didn’t do so well in school," said Joseph Wilcox Jr., a senior at Kaimuki High’s performing arts learning center, in moving testimony to the board Tuesday. "The performing arts changed me. It taught me how to be a better person."
» Reduce the nonsalary budget for the Lahainaluna boarding program by 10 percent, which amounts to an $18,000 cut to the program, which got $571,000 in nonsalary funds this fiscal year.
The work-study program at Lahainaluna High attracts students from Maui, Hawaii island, Molokai and Lanai, and is free to students.
» Reduce the nonsalary funding to most other programs by 2.5 percent.
Also yesterday, the board approved the department’s recommendation that the A+ after-school program charge students according to the cost of operating the program.
In July the department plans to again raise A+ fees, to $85 per child monthly, and get rid of a sliding scale that gave parents a break if they had more than one child enrolled in the program. Parents now pay $80 a month for a first child, $75 for a second and $70 for any additional children.
The department last raised A+ fees in February, from $55 per child.
Low-income children who attend the program for free would continue to have their fees subsidized, and will not be affected by the change.