Lawmaker says Hawaii lied about schools maintenance backlog

January 7, 2019

HONOLULU (AP) — The chairwoman of the House Finance Committee has alleged the state Department of Education lied about the size of a repair and maintenance backlog at Hawaii public schools.

State Rep. Sylvia Luke, a Democrat, on Thursday said lawmakers may never learn why the backlog was misrepresented to the public, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported .

She questioned Democratic Gov. David Ige’s administration’s willingness to ask for more money for the department without determining what went wrong.

The department told lawmakers last January that the repair and maintenance backlog was $293 million as of 2017. But later in the year, the department told some lawmakers that the true backlog was $868 million.

Department officials have said the full extent of the problem was discovered after a “deep dive” by a new leadership team.

Dann Carlson, assistant superintendent for school facilities and support services, has said officials discovered that projects had been checked off the pending repair and maintenance list when initial funds were spent on them, even if the money spent was for design and not construction.

The department said in a statement Monday it has taken steps to modernize its management systems to provide accurate tracking data of repair and maintenance projects. The steps include a new online database and revamped process for executing bid contracts.

Luke, speaking at a joint hearing of the House Finance Committee and the Senate Ways and Means committee, noted lawmakers authorized borrowing money for years to commit a “substantial” amount of funding to try to reduce the backlog.

But Luke, who represents Honolulu’s Nuuanu and Punchbowl neighborhoods, said lawmakers “have not even made a dent” in the problem, which was worse than anyone understood.

“Doesn’t that bother you that after 10 years the backlog, after all the investment that the Legislature has made in reducing the backlog, has not decreased that amount?” Luke asked Scott Kami, Ige’s acting director of finance.

Kami responded: “I would say that I think we would want to work more with the department to identify why the numbers have changed.”

Luke also questioned Ige’s plan to spend $125 million to match federal funding for flood control along Honolulu’s Ala Wai Canal.

She has said she considers the Ala Wai to be a city project and not a state responsibility.