Legislative finance committees begin 3-day Kaua‘i tour

WAIMEA — State senators and representatives from the state House Finance Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee visited Kaua‘i’s Westside Monday on a tour coordinated by state Rep. Bertha Kawakami, D-West Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau.

Following a tour of the Syngenta Seeds seed-corn company, the group was greeted by Waimea High School student leaders Brycen Hiraoka, Kyle Pigao, and Michael Ishibashi, and student officers from the various classes and organizations at the school.

The trio of student leaders served as moderators as well as presenters for the student concerns, as Hiraoka outlined some of the positive things students at Waimea High School enjoy, leading with strong community support as well as the strong support demonstrated by Waimea alumni. Hiraoka pointed out the availability of the historic Waimea Theatre, where students, parents and community can enjoy concerts and events hosted by Waimea’s schools without having to drive to Lihu‘e.

The learning environment is strengthened by good teachers, many of whom go beyond the classroom to ensure success by the student body, Hiraoka pointed out.

Strong student support and spirit is also another highlight at Waimea High School.

However, Pigao also pointed out the need for an elevator at the school, so disabled students can access second-story classrooms.

Principal Bill Arakaki noted that there is at least one impaired student, but the school also has a wheelchair-confined staff member who needs to access the upper floors.

To accommodate the disabled, the school’s teachers relocated classes to available space at ground level so the disabled are able to receive instruction, he said.

Pigao noted that an elevator has been on the school’s legislative “wish list” since 1994, with no word of its future.

Another concern of students is the lack of ventilation in classrooms to help cope with the high temperatures and humidity common to the arid Westside.

Ishibashi said that there is an abundance of ceiling fans that don’t work in the school, fans that are outdated and need tape to hold switches into the “on” position, and some that are unsafe, missing their protective guards.

One teacher has even started recording room temperatures at various times of the day, and legislators were given an opportunity to review his findings, as a clipboard with the data was passed around.

A question about teachers ill-prepared to teach in a subject opened an avenue that touched on how to develop longevity in new-teacher hires, with Arakaki raising the question of placing Waimea High School on the “need” list to qualify for recruiting incentives that are available to those schools.

Arakaki noted that about 50 percent of the teachers are alumni who have returned to the school, but with the growing population of teachers reaching retirement age, teacher recruitment will be needed for the next five years.

A question on mandatory drug testing seemed to catch the students ill-prepared about whether or not they would submit to random testing, but students did note the need for more places (and activities) to help cope with the growing alcohol and drug problem.

Moving on to Kaua‘i Veterans Memorial Hospital, the contingent was treated to a tour of the facility led by Ori Skomoroch, the hospital’s director, pointing out the strides they have made in improvements in both facilities and services, while touching on the need to have more funding to replace, more specifically, an aging X-ray machine that operates by cannibalizing parts off another machine.

While on tour, several hospital patrons visiting patients brought out the fact that KVMH has no cafeteria for visitors to be able to enjoy meals while visiting patients.

The delegation was hosted to lunch at the hospital by Kawakami before moving on to a tour of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Mana.

Today’s itinerary has the delegation moving to the Eastside of Kaua‘i, coordinated by state Rep. Mina Morita, D-North Shore, with stops planned at the Kaua‘i Community College, Kilauea School, and the gentlemen estates in Kilauea.

Wednesday’s schedule, coordinated by state Rep. Ezra Kanoho, D-Lihu‘e-Koloa, has the delegation visiting the new Civil Defense and Kaua‘i Police Department headquarters building, as well as the site of the upcoming courthouse complex.

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