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Senate Education Committee mulls school land bill

Anita Hofschneider, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- The Hawaii Senate Education Committee is deliberating a bill that would allow the state to develop public school lands by partnering with private companies.

The House and Senate passed different versions of the much-debated proposal earlier this month.

Senators are proposing to change the House version of the bill to a three-year pilot program and create a new special fund for school facilities. The more cautious approach is in line with what the Senate already passed.

House Committee on Education Chairman Roy Takumi said the main difference between the House and Senate versions is the delegation of oversight. The Democrat said the Senate bill gives the lieutenant governor decision-making power, but the House measure says the Board of Education should have the final say.

Takumi said the House plans to hear the Senate version soon and will likely replace the Senate bill with the House version. The details will be worked out during conference, he said, which is when lawmakers from both chambers convene to work out compromises on the bills.

Advocates of public school land development say underutilized land is an untapped resource for funding Hawaii's aging schools.

Schools in urban Honolulu, such as Waikiki Elementary School, should be considered for pilot projects, Takumi said. He also suggested schools that are sitting on expansive properties such as Kihei High School on Maui, which he says has 77 acres of land.

Opponents worry about how development might affect local communities. They say the proposal is too similar to the state's highly criticized public land development agency.

Republican members of the Democrat-controlled Legislature have referred to the school land proposal as an offshoot of the agency. Both chambers voted to repeal the controversial organization earlier this month.

The Senate Education Committee plans to vote Monday after hearing testimony about the proposal.