Supporters lobbied Tuesday to save the Lahainaluna High School boarding program from proposed funding cuts triggered by the state's budgetary crisis.
State Rep. Angus McKelvey, who represents West Maui, and Mary Cochran, Board of Education Maui District member, both agreed supporters need to be visible and vocal as the Board of Education's Committee on Budget and Fiscal Accountability looks at ways to trim costs in the state's public school system.
The committee met Tuesday afternoon in Honolulu to consider options to end Furlough Fridays in public schools. Furlough Fridays were implemented in late October after the state and the teachers union ratified a contract that resulted in closing public school classrooms for 34 days over the next two years to deal with budget cuts.
In looking for ways to reduce costs with an eye toward Furlough Fridays, the committee has spent the last two weeks reviewing dozens of programs - each with a price tag of $500,000 or more.
Lahainaluna's boarding program is budgeted at $601,196 for this school year and was included in the list of programs under review. The boarding program, which has been in existence for 174 years, provides students from Maui and across the state, the Mainland and Micronesia a chance to live in campus dormitories and study at the school at the top of Lahainaluna Road. In return, the students perform various jobs around the campus.
Principal Michael Nakano said the program includes about 90 students but has a capacity for 140.
"Every year, we hear about closing the boarding program," Nakano said Tuesday. "We don't want to be closed, but people are scared it might."
Cochran tried to calm those fears.
"Not to say, it's going to be (cut). My goodness, we're just looking at it," she said.
As Maui's representative on the board, Cochran said she would advocate to maintain the program and welcomes testimony from the public to support her position.
"The Board of Education is going to be bombarded already. More support doesn't hurt," she said.
Cochran, who also has a seat on the board's budget committee, cautions that no program, including the Lahainaluna boarding program, has actually been identified for cuts.
"I would tell people to hang in there, don't panic," she said.
McKelvey sent e-mails to constituents asking them to submit testimony to the Board of Education. He said he does not want to cause panic but wants to ensure the viability of the boarding program.
"Given the fiscal situation of the state, I believe it's imperative that we educate and reiterate the broad support for the program," he said.
McKelvey testified in person Tuesday afternoon at the budget committee meeting.
He said he emphasized that the boarding program "is not a parochial program" but has accepted students from all islands and throughout Micronesia. "It's turned lives around and has kept kids out of trouble," McKelvey said.
He also pointed out that student boarders provide cost-savings for the school by providing labor in various campus projects, including overall maintenance.
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.