by Liz Larson
There are two bills currently at the capitol that would allow the Lt. Governor and the DOE to lease public school land to private developers even if the land is currently being used for the education of our keiki. They are SB 237 and HB 865.
These bills are being created under the guise of raising needed funds for modernizing school facilities for the twenty-first century. The bills call for a 50 year lease of public school land at two pilot locations to private developers to generate revenues that would directly benefit the children. However, according to current market values in Waikiki, arguably the most valuable land on Oahu, the approximately 15 acres that Jefferson Elementary School currently sits on would generate a meager $10.5 million in revenue per year. This seems small in comparison to the unnecessary increase in educational spending introduced at the capitol this year.
Governor Abercrombie’s Early Childhood Education program will cost over $100 million for just the children age 4, according to Budget and Finance Director Kalbert Young. The current settlement with the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) will cost taxpayers $333 million over 4 years.
So if the taxpayers are not benefiting from SB 237 and HB 865, who is? Maybe it is the developers and builders that will be involved in the projects. It definitely will not be the citizens of the communities who will see their rare and valuable open space turned into a concrete jungle.
Senator Taniguchi and Senator Green are the only Senators that voted ‘No’ to SB 237 at the Senate’s 3rd reading of the bill. Representatives Fale, Ing, McDermott, Theilen, and Ward and Senator Slom voted ‘No’ to HB 865 at the 3rd readings at the House and Senate respectively.
Where are the other law makers when schools in our communities are being put at risk? All schools from Farrington to Hawaii Kai in the urban core are being considered, but the schools with the highest land values are at the highest risk, regardless of whether the schools are providing education to a large numbers of children in the area.
Jefferson Elementary School, which currently educates around 400 children, would be torn down and a high rise building (or buildings) for work force housing rentals would be constructed. Many of the hard working men and women in the tourism industry who live in Waikiki would see their children bussed to other schools. Even if the school were rebuilt in one floor of the high rise, as has been suggested by some legislators, where do the children go for the 3 years it will take to rebuild the school?
Nearby Waikiki Elementary School is already bursting at the seams and the distance of Ala Wai Elementary School to where these families live would add an unnecessary burden.
If law makers support SB 237 and HB 865, they do not understand their constituents very well. Public schools are a vital resource to families and neighbors in our communities.
Liz Larson is a member of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board
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