Consolidated classrooms, no security guards and the disappearance of Hawaiian studies programs: these are the kinds of cuts Hawaii public schools may be facing if a new round of federal relief or emergency state funds doesn’t come through.

At least 1,300 school-level positions, including nearly 800 teachers, librarians and counselors, and 48 school administrator slots, could disappear by June under the state Department of Education’s proposed reorganization plan, which is to be presented to the Board of Education on Thursday.

“If nothing changes, those cuts will be implemented. It will take some kind of affirmative action for us not to implement those plans,” the DOE’s chief financial officer, Brian Hallett, told Civil Beat on Tuesday.

The DOE’s school reorganization plan outlines a total potential loss of 1,316 positions across the department, including nearly 800 educator roles. Courtesy: Hawaii Department of Education

State officials maintain hope for a potential new infusion of federal funds under President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration, but they can’t wait for that as Hawaii’s schools grapple with pandemic-driven budget cuts.

The DOE was asked to present a potential staffing plan by the state education policymaking board.

In briefing materials released Friday ahead of Thursday’s meeting, education officials outlined how a 10% reduction to each of the 257 school budgets could impact kids.

The picture is grim, with a total projected loss of 1,300 public education school-based jobs, or 7% of the positions overall.

The Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua complex area could lose 167 positions, including 100 teachers. The Aiea-Moanalua-Radford complex area expects to lose 135 positions, including 91 teachers, while the Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui complex area estimates losing 133 positions, including 84 teachers.

DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto warned last year that the job cuts were likely, but the briefing materials provide new details about the impact on individual schools.

‘A Last Resort’

In a written memo to the Board of Education released on Friday, Kishimoto stressed that layoffs or cuts would be “executed as a last resort” and would be reevaluated if funding is restored to schools under a fresh round of federal stimulus funds or state emergency appropriations this legislative session, which begins Wednesday.

“These are cuts we didn’t want to make, they are cuts we felt were needed given the fiscal climate —  which has improved considerably,” Hallett said in a phone interview. “With what we knew at the time, we had to put a plan together.”

There is hope: Hawaii’s DOE is receiving an additional $183 million thanks to a federal stimulus signed into law in December. The education department is proposing to funnel at least $54 million of those funds to offset the $100.3 million reduction this fiscal year due to the pandemic impacts.

This would help recoup the loss of special education dollars or “weighted student funding” schools receive for certain students like English language learners or low-income and homeless students. The $54 million equates to roughly $200,000 per DOE school on average — enough to restore three teacher positions, Hallett estimated.

Each public school had to submit a 2021-22 school year financial plan by the end of last year assuming a 10% budget reduction as directed by state education officials.

The schools’ financial blueprints include an array of proposed cuts to not only core subject teaching lines, but losses of special education instructor positions, part-time education assistant roles, extracurricular activities, intramural sports, literacy coaches, school counselor roles and Early College classes.

Kapolei High — one of the state’s newest high schools with roughly 1,900 students — said it would need to lay off 30 part-time teachers who help kids with special needs; cut off funding for classroom supplies with families forced to shoulder the costs; eliminate substitute teacher funding; and get rid of a school security guard role, “thus compromising the health and safety of the entire school campus.”

Moanalua High is potentially facing the loss of its Hawaiian Studies program, Advanced Placement science labs, German language classes and its robotics team, among other things, according to its financial plan.

This scenario, moreover, does not take into account a projected loss of an additional $300,000 “due to the reduction in enrollment,” the Oahu high school’s proposal states.

The school didn’t make its enrollment projection of 2,077 students this year because “the usual military influx did not happen and additional parents decided to home school,” the school’s notes stated.

The DOE had $100.3 million trimmed from its budget this year and is facing an additional loss of $164 million per year in the 2021-23 fiscal biennium, according to budget documents.

In briefing materials to the Board of Education, the DOE outlined how exactly it plans to use $183 million in the most recent round of federal funds, which must be used by September 2023.

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee DOE Salary session held at McKinley Adult School.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association, under the leadership of Corey Rosenlee, opposes DOE’s plans to use federal funds on things like summer school and private tutors for DOE kids, rather than preserving teacher positions. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Its proposal includes $53 million to supply private math and English tutors for struggling fifth to eighth graders who are more than two grade levels behind, a group estimated to include 25,000 students.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association strongly opposes the idea.

“Hiring private tutors is a luxury we cannot afford right now, especially as the state contemplates firing a thousand educators,” the union’s president Corey Rosenlee said Tuesday during a virtual news conference.

It wasn’t clear whether these funds are intended to align with the DOE’s recent deal with outside tutoring firms to help struggling students in Title I schools.

The DOE also proposes to use $32.5 million to continue a pilot program that boosts the salaries of special education teachers, Hawaiian language immersion teachers and those who teach in hard-to-staff geographic areas; $3 million to schools to spend on health and safety protocols; and $9.6 million for a summer learning program.

The HSTA, joined Tuesday by Colleen Hanabusa, a former U.S. congresswoman from Hawaii, 2018 Hawaii gubernatorial candidate and 2020 Honolulu mayoral candidate, also argued that certain provisions in the stimulus bills require the state to maintain educator pay.

However, Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of The School Superintendents Association, noted that the federal law permits “broad, flexible spending.”

“The intent of CARES II is to support state and local education agencies in their work to get schools open,” she said. “What’s mandated? Very little. What’s allowed? A heck of a lot.”

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