BOE changes moving ahead says Hooser

State Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua’i-Ni’ihau said yesterday that bills that would modify the state Board of Education or state Department of Education are expected to move forward this week.

Senate Bill 784 proposes a constitutional amendment to ask voters if they want to change the BOE composition to 17 members, and change the way state voters select members.

Now, Kaua’i and Ni’ihau voters cast choices not only for the single BOE representative for Kaua’i and Ni’ihau, but also vote for members of all the other Neighbor Island counties.

The amendment, if passed, would establish one BOE district for every three state House districts, with voters in those House districts voting only for their candidates. That means Kaua’i and Ni’ihau voters would vote just for candidates from this county, he said.

Senate Bill 667 proposes a 13-member BOE, with seven elected and six appointed members, while simultaneously breaking up the state Department of Education into seven regional administrative agencies, of which Kaua’i would be one, said Hooser, vice chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Gov. Linda Lingle’s proposal to establish seven separate school boards, which didn’t get enough votes to move forward in the state House, also likely won’t be heard by the Senate Education Committee this session, either, he said.

Still alive is Senate Bill 17, which proposes to raise the age required to start kindergarten in public schools to five years of age by Oct. 16, 2005 for the 2005-06 school year, and to Aug. 1, 2006 for the 2006-07 school year. The date would remain Aug. 1 for every year thereafter.

Currently, any child turning five any time this year may start kindergarten in the 2003-04 school year.

“Actually, I think this is a pretty significant bill. It basically requires children to be more mature when they start kindergarten,” Hooser said.

“I think most early education professionals would agree that that’s very important,” he said.

“We’ve amended the bill to require preschool options for those children that might have been in that gap group, so they would not be left out in the process.”

Dead this session are proposals to require random mandatory drug testing for students, and another bill that would have taken school principals out of the Hawaii Government Employees Association union.

The Senate Education Committee voted to approve a schools’ repair and maintenance budget of $120 million for the 2003-04 school year, up from $100 million currently.

“I think it’s a program that’s been working very well, and a lot of Kaua’i schools have benefited from,” said Hooser.

Money at the Legislature is tight and getting tighter, he said. That means various legislation that has been approved so far might fall victim to the budget-cutting ax down the line, including additional funding for counselors and other positions at schools, and even funding for training of school-crossing guards.

“Because money is so, so tight, and the latest word is that it’s going to be even tighter, I’m not sure how much of these positions and new funding is actually going to come through,” he said.

Still moving is Senate Bill 1700, which calls for per-student funding parity where public- and charter-school students are concerned, he reported.

Where new funding initiatives are concerned, though, the emerging state fiscal situation will dictate which if any are funded, he warned.

“Again, there’s a number of bills. A lot of them deal with new funding for positions and programs. But the funding is going to be a problem,” he predicted.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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