LHS Boarding Department removed from BOE list of proposed cuts
LAHAINA — The state Board of Education (BOE) last week decided to take the Lahainaluna High School Boarding Department off the budget chopping block and fund the program for the next two years.
Given the state’s budget crisis and the need to cut costs in the Department of Education (DOE), the board is evaluating all programs over $500,000.
When BOE Maui District representative Mary J. Cochran saw the Boarding Department ($601,196) on the list of potential cuts, she told the Lahainaluna High School community to urge the Board of Education to preserve the program.
"The entire community should be congratulated for their active participation in the process of reviewing proposed cuts," said Cochran. "I believe that is what prompted the withdrawal!"
At a BOE meeting on Dec. 15 at the Queen Liliuokalani Building in Honolulu, West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey testified in support of the unique Lahainaluna boarding program.
"The Lahainaluna boarding program is part of a 150-year tradition providing educational excellence and opportunity to the people of Hawaii," McKelvey told the board.
BOE members questioned the relevance of a boarding agricultural education program, especially since the state is eliminating similar curriculum-based programs at other schools.
McKelvey responded that "the kids that are in the boarding program today are not only learning about agriculture… but are also learning about stewardship, sustainable practices and renewable energy through the hands-on work the curriculum provides, and will be able to help agricultural entities obtain the workforce necessary to leverage the opportunities the state has provided to agriculture."
He added that "all the grants and state programs in the world will do little good if we don’t continue to develop a workforce that can help them take advantage of these opportunities."
Lahainaluna High School Foundation Board Member Richard "Noosh" Nishihara, a graduate of the LHS Boarding Department, told the panel that the state should be expanding agricultural educational programs, not cutting them.
"It’s a real shame — now more than ever, we should be teaching the next generation how to take care of the land and how to provide," he testified.
Acknowledging the state’s budget problems, Rep. McKelvey told the BOE that the program helps pay for itself — and helps the school — by requiring the students to work on campus as part of their tuition.
"The boarders themselves work at the school as part of a way to pay off the tuition for their boarding, which not only offsets the costs of the program, but also eliminates the need for the Department of Education to hire additional labor and outside resources to carry out the same job functions, many of which would come in a much more expensive price tag when you consider the cost of state-procured labor," he said.
Nishihara said he benefitted from the no-nonsense boarding schedule and chores.
"I am a product of the Lahainaluna boarding program, and I can tell you that I would not be the man I am today without the hard work and discipline that the program instilled in me and others," Nishihara said.
The curriculum also gave Nishihara the opportunity to work and live with students from other parts of the state and develop lifelong friendships that continue today.
Boarding Department alumni also share stories of teenagers who lacked direction or were getting in trouble with the law, who changed their lives by living and learning at Lahainaluna.
"The Lahainaluna boarding program has given families across the state the opportunity to have kids… reorient themselves through the hard work and ongoing support that the program offers," McKelvey told the panel.
After the program appeared on the potential cut list, the Board of Education saw an outpouring of support for the LHS Boarding Department from alumni statewide and the Lahaina community.
Cochran wanted BOE colleagues to realize the importance of the boarding program amid talk of cuts and weaker state revenue projections.
McKelvey told the BOE that the community is ready to explore public-private partnerships and help raise funds for the program through the LHS Foundation and other community groups, but the school community needs time to create a plan.
"To be honest, given the eleventh-hour nature of this move, it caught the foundation, alumni and many other supporters off-guard," McKelvey told the board.
He was asked if the school has a strong alumni network it could lean on to support the Boarding Department.
McKelvey said he’s "committed to work with the board and the community to explore all options for augmenting the program and to address many of the other needs it has through public-private partnerships… and explore all avenues of possible outside sources of funding as well."
A staunch supporter of the boarding program, Cochran feels there are better options for budget cuts.
"Where did we get this two-year funding idea? As far as I am concerned, it will continue to be funded without interruption — not when there are programs that need to be eliminated right now… duplicative services at the state and federal level," she concluded.