Education budget process includes Kaua‘i visits

Chief Financial Officer James Brese came to Kaua‘i seeking public input to the Department of Education’s operating and capital improvement budgets at the Board of Education Community meeting held at Kalaheo Elementary School this week.

The audience, comprised mainly of west complex administrators with a handful of parents, was typical of the kinds of audiences Brese is encountering statewide.

“It’s been the same kind of turnout,” Brese said. “It’s been positively received.”

Brese’s chief financial officer position was created through Act 151 in the 2006 legislative session. It signaled the recognition of the DOE’s similarity to a large corporation that needed a comprehensive budgeting and accounting system from the administration to the school levels.

Brese’s appointment to that position was approved by the BOE on Oct. 5 2006. Four months earlier, on June 8, the BOE had adopted a new policy requiring public input to the budget process.

In compliance with that policy, the DOE began soliciting public input on what should be the highest budget priority during the community meeting in February and will continue at each community meeting until the end of this month.

The input collected will be used in consideration for the supplemental Fiscal Year 2008-2009 budget.

“The DOE is not a black hole,” Brese said. “We are trying to use our resources wisely and prudently to be able to educate our children.”

Brese explained the budgeting process that included an explanation of how the use of the Weighted Student Formula supports fair allocations of budgets to schools for all students.

WSF allocates funds to schools based on student educational needs. Students with special needs, including those who are economically disadvantaged or English Second Language Learners, for example, need more resources.

Kaua‘i’s BOE member, Maggie Cox, said that it has been difficult working with WSF.

“The problem with WSF is we don’t have enough (funding) to go around,” Cox said. “When you have to take from one group and give to another, it’s difficult.”

A graphic of a dollar bill was used to illustrate the DOE operating budget. The graphic showed principals expend $.73 of each dollar.

Waimea High School Principal Bill Arakaki said that might be misleading to the public. He said that most of the $.73 go to personnel costs, leaving principals with discretion over a much smaller amount.

A simplified budget overview showed how the DOE budget request with public input goes to the BOE. The BOE sets the final priorities and submits the budget request to the governor, who then submits a budget request to the Legislature. The state Legislature determines funding and sends it back to the governor before the budget is finalized.

Additional information showed the differences between the governor’s and the BOE’s requests for this, and the next two fiscal years.

“(Getting public input) doesn’t mean we’ll do everything you ask for,” Cox said. “As we make policies, we try to take what we hear into account.”

Kalaheo Elementary School parent Dean Okayama said he now has a better perspective of the budget process and thinks other parents would gain a better understanding if they looked at the budget breakdown.

“I thought there would be more participation,” Dean Okayama’s wife, Lynda, said.

The Okayamas’ fifth-grade son, Jared, is the student representative on Kalaheo Elementary School’s community council. The SCC assists the principal in finalizing the school’s academic and financial plans.

Dean Okayama said it was his son’s participation on the SCC that led the whole family to attend the community meeting.

The next BOE meeting of the full board will be on May 17, at Waimea High School. Cox said that there should be more budget information coming from this year’s Committee on Weights.

Cox also said the public should start to evaluate the school calendar. This was the first year of having the public schools in Hawai‘i on the same calendar again, after allowing schools for a number of years to decide its own calendars. Cox said the discussion will focus on the calendar schedule, not on whether to return to different calendars for different schools.

The public can access the Brese presentation on the DOE Web site. Budget input may be made up to May 31, by mail, phone, fax, e-mail or Web site. A survey form is available at doe.k12.hi.us/surveys/budgetpriorities.htm.

“People know the DOE is trying to be transparent,” Brese said.

• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at aharju@kauaipubco.com.

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