House supports funding for Lahainaluna boarding program
LAHAINA — The Hawaii House of Representatives last week pledged to support funding the Lahainaluna High School Boarding Department for the next fiscal year, said House Speaker Calvin Say.
Around $600,000 for the program was included in the House Draft of the state budget bill, House Bill 2200, but when the measure crossed over to the Senate, the Ways and Means (WAM) Committee deleted the item.
News that funding for Lahainaluna’s 174-year-old boarding program was cut from the state budget prompted graduates and students to contact lawmakers and stage rallies in Lahaina and Kahului on April 3.
“Because the students of the boarding program do important maintenance and custodial work at the school, not only do they pay their way, but they save the state money,” said Rep. Angus McKelvey (D-Tenth District) of Lahaina.
“The decision to cut the funding for the boarding program is shortsighted, because the cost to hire the same services would cost the state much more.”
In the conference committee that will likely begin this week, House and Senate members will discuss their differences and work toward a final budget bill.
“I support the House’s position to fund the Lahainaluna High School boarding program,” commented Say (D-20th District) last week Tuesday. “This is the position the House will take into conference committee with the Senate.”
“On behalf of the community and the many supporters of the Lahainaluna boarding program, I want to thank both my Maui colleagues and the other members of the State House for continuing to support the House’s position as we move forward on the budget,” McKelvey said.
On Saturday, the Hawaii State Senate announced that it adopted a concurrent resolution calling for the continuation of the LHS boarding program, “despite a Department of Education (DOE) proposal to eliminate the program as part of its budget reduction.”
Maui Board of Education member Mary Cochran told the Lahaina News that the Senate was using an outdated DOE document when considering budget cuts.
Cochran made sure the DOE sent a letter to Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Donna Kim noting that the Board of Education supports funding the boarding program.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 6 states that “the Lahainaluna High School boarding program allows students from neighbor islands and other areas of Maui to live in dormitories and attend the school in exchange for reasonable custodial and maintenance work on school grounds,” and “provides opportunities for students to grow and mature.”
“This is a point where budget cuts really hit the community hard,” said Maui Sen. J. Kalani English (D-Sixth District).
“Lahainaluna boarding is a unique program — the only one of its kind in our public schools — offering students from rural areas a chance to excel in a different environment. It has a long history of success, and we can’t just give up on it.”
The resolution requests that the DOE convene a Lahainaluna Boarding Program Working Group to evaluate the true cost of the boarding program; determine the cost savings, if any, by having the boarding program students continue to assist with routine repair and maintenance work on the school’s campus; explore public and private partnerships to continue the boarding program; and explore changes to the current rate structure for resident and nonresident boarding students and the potential impacts those changes might have on the boarding program.
If approved, the group would report its findings and recommendations to the legislature before the 2011 legislative session.
Maui Sen. Shan Tsutsui (D-Fourth District) feels the legislature, governor and DOE should make an extra effort to preserve the program.
“We know everyone has to make sacrifices, but this is a case where we need to look at all the impacts and all the alternatives before we make the proposed cut. Can we make up the cost some other way, and is the cost to the students too high? It’s definitely worth examining the possibilities,” he said.
English and Tsutsui, who both serve on the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee, led the effort to amend SCR6 to include the call for the working group.
Concurrent resolutions must be adopted by both the Senate and House. The document has been sent to the House for approval.
Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D-Fifth District) of Lahaina feels the resolution is a sign that the Ways and Means Committee recognizes the importance of the boarding program.
“We’ve had excellent e-mail messages — tremendous support from current boarders, families of boarders, alumni and former boarders. All of it has been compelling,” she explained in an e-mail Saturday.
The resolution facilitated by Tsutsui will give the school and Maui delegation an opportunity to educate the legislature on the boarding program and dispel some myths, she added.
“‘Resos’ don’t come with money, so we still have to rely on money being put back in the budget. The ‘reso’ is, however, a statement of the legislature on this matter. If there isn’t some money restored, however, it will just fall on deaf ears, I’m afraid. So while I’m happy with the passage by the Senate of the ‘reso’ and the statement of support from the House, we are not out of the woods yet,” Baker wrote.
Leslie Hiraga of the Lahainaluna High School Foundation said the school community has lobbied for boarding program funding before the state Board of Education, Hawaii Senate, and now the House.
“I am very grateful for this huge show of support but not naive enough to celebrate yet. We had so many false assurances that the funding was secure… and so little notice to rally our ‘ohana each time,” Hiraga said.
“For me personally, this has been a huge wake-up call to the many layers of the funding process. This has consumed so much of our time and energy.”
She said LHS will pay close attention to the conference committee, because the Senate “doesn’t seem to be convinced of the validity of the Boarding Department, even with all the follow up information that Principal (Michael) Nakano and the (Department of Education) has supplied.”
State lawmakers were told that given Lahainaluna’s large campus, 15 custodians would need to be hired to handle the work now conducted by boarders.
School supporters also testified that the boarding program cannot be funded through the student weighted formula.
“Despite lack of time to organize, our ‘ohana has done a tremendous job of sharing and supporting; basically having our voices heard. Lahainaluna has connections to every district of our state, from students and boarders alike, and our lawmakers have heard from them,” said Hiraga.
“The very real possibility of ending the program has wide consequences for all Lahainaluna students, not just the ninth, tenth and 11th grade boarders who wouldn’t be able to return in July. If LHS loses approximately 100 students, there will be faculty, administrative and staff cuts resulting in higher class sizes and the further stretching of the school’s resources, which will also be cut.
“This has such far-reaching consequences for our community; and then there is tradition. Please come to David Malo Day, April 17, as we pray it won’t be the last one,” she concluded.