School funding formula may lead to staff cuts

Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories on the state Department of Education’s new, weighted-student formula for funding public-school operations .

LIHU’E — State Department of Education officials acknowledge it will take three to five years for the full benefits of weighted-school funding (WSF) to be realized.

The WSF is being used to determine levels of individual-school funding beginning with the new school year that starts in July.

Officials acknowledge there are already some “kinks” in the system, said Daniel Hamada, state DOE Kaua’i complex area superintendent.

The members of the weights committee determined the cost of educating one student for one school year is at just over $4,200, and their work is not yet done, said Hamada, a committee member.

They must review the implementation of the present formula, and look at other funds to include in WSF. They do have this year to look at the “kinks,” he said.

State DOE Administrative Services Assistant for the West Complex, Nathan Kawaguchi, assisted Waimea Canyon School Principal Glenda Miyazaki with WCS’s financial plan.

He pointed out an example of such a “kink.” Act 51 (the state Reinventing Education Act for the Children of Hawai’i, or REACH) mandated that individual classrooms for students in grades kindergarten through two couldn’t be larger than 25 students.

If there are 27 students enrolled in first grade, school officials must hire an additional first-grade teacher. Kawaguchi said the weights for students in those lower grades would not be sufficient to fund two teacher positions in that case.

Act 51 states that the DOE leaders “shall provide supplementary allocations to those schools whose budgets are adversely affected upon the implementation of the weighted-student formula, as determined by the superintendent, for no more than three years beginning with the 2006-07 school year.”

Because under the WSF many schools will face budget cuts, state Board of Education members adopted a transitional policy to ease school leaders into their new budgets.

In fiscal year 2006-07 (beginning July 1, 2006), school leaders will experience 10 percent of the deficits; in fiscal year 2007-08, 25 percent; in fiscal year 2008-09, 50 percent; and in fiscal year 2009-10, 100 percent.

Likewise, schools with an increase in budgets will have a transitional phase in a similar manner.

Miyazaki, new principal at Waimea Canyon School, after spending several years as principal of Eleele School, said she is grateful to have the time to explore ways to deal with the loss of about $79,000 her school faces in the 2006-07 school year as a result of the WSF calculations.

She was able to handle the 10 percent cut for next year by reducing staff development and classroom supplies, she said.

When those at Waimea Canyon work on the financial plan for the 2007-08 school year with the additional cut, they will need to look at potentially cutting staff positions, she said.

Miyazaki said an early memo from Hamada indicated his desire not to touch positions, and to honor contractual agreements.

“Because of WSF, we (have to) be creative, and see how we can support schools so we can continue to exist and to operate,” Miyazaki said.

When members of the weights committee resume their work, there will be fewer members. Hamada said BOE members approved an eight to 14 member committee at last month’s BOE meeting on Maui.

Hamada agrees with the reduction, he said. There wasn’t enough time for 42 people to make sense of the WSF, he noted.

“I really believe the committee members had lots of passion and were dedicated to get the job done, but we had a deadline.”

He said he is confident of their recommendations, but there still needs to be follow up.

“The work is not done. It’s a work in progress,” Hamada said.

Miyazaki said she has yet to appreciate the freedom and flexibility promised by WSF. The budget was not the only thing she needed to worry about, she added.

Preparing the financial plan with the newly formed School Community Council, getting ready for accreditation, planning to meet Adequate Yearly Progress as required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, all vied for her attention, Miyazaki said.

When she came to WCS at the start of the school year, no principal was in place at Eleele School, so she divided her time between the two schools.

Not all systems allow for the flexibility, either. Miyazaki said members of the school community wanted a security manager at Waimea Canyon School.

School leaders were able to dedicate funds for a half-time position, but they are not sure if they will be able to fill the position, she said.

State DOE leaders have contracted with leaders of a private company to handle security managers, and it is unclear if the contract will allow WCS community leaders and educators to get what they want, she added.

“I believe that people want to do the best for education, but for us in the field who have to implement it and live it, it gets very challenging,” Miyazaki said.

She believes in “positive intentions,” and is working to meet the challenges, she said.

  • Cynthia Matsuoka, a Lihu’e-based freelance writer, is the former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi, and writes periodically on education issues exclusively for The Garden Island. Messages for her may be left with
  • Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, at 245-3681, ext. 224, or pcurtis@kauaipubco.com.
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