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Tuesday, April 3, 2001




DAVID SWANN /STAR-BULLETIN



School was told
to take students

Requests from special people
got some children admitted over
others, the admissions chief says

'Red-dot' admissions denied

By Rick Daysog
Star-Bulletin

The child scored well on parts of his entrance exams but bombed on others. Teachers who evaluated his application for Kamehameha Schools' kindergarten program recommended against admitting the child and were angered when he was accepted ahead of six students who scored higher.

In sworn testimony, the estate's admissions director, Wayne Chang, said that former trustee Lokelani Lindsey ordered him to admit the child only after she received a request from then-state Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Klein.

"The person who asked is a very important person for this child, and it's something that we as an institution like to do," Chang recalled Lindsey as saying.

The Klein incident was hardly the exception. In a 314-page, sealed deposition recently obtained by the Star-Bulletin, Chang provided an extraordinary look at how the former trustees and top executives at the $6 billion charity played politics with school admissions.

Chang -- in a Aug. 11, 1998, deposition taken in preparation for the trial to oust Lindsey -- said ex-board members Lindsey, Gerard Jervis and Henry Peters and senior school officials pulled strings for friends and relatives of several politically connected isle families, including:

>> A distant relative of ex-Gov. John Waihee.

>> A relative of Big Island rancher Larry Mehau.

>> Former state Sen. Milton Holt's sons.

The former trustees denied that they influenced the admission process.

However, investigations by the Internal Revenue Service, the Attorney General's Office and the estate's internal auditors concluded that trust officials improperly influenced the Kamehameha Schools' admissions and financial aid awards.


The Kamehameha Schools admissions department regularly
monitored the select students that applied for admission upon
request from the former trustees. Here, admissions director
Wayne Chang left this message with ex-trustee Richard
"Dickie" Wong, notifying him that the student scored well
on her entrance tests but did not fare well on other aspects
of the application process. She was placed on the waiting list.



But the details of the state, federal and trust investigations remain hidden behind protective orders issued by state judges.

Trustee Robert Kihune and the estate's chief executive officer, Hamilton McCubbin, have confirmed that problems existed in the admissions department in an interview with the Star-Bulletin last year, but they declined to discuss specifics.

According to Kihune, the instances were not widespread, and the trust's current management has implemented several reforms, including a new anti-tampering policy, to address the problem.

Few incidents raise more questions than the Klein case.

According to the testimony of Chang, who declined comment for this article, he told Lindsey several times that the child should not be admitted. The student, he said, had done well on his written exam but was "belligerent" in the classroom. But Lindsey overruled him, saying it was "requested by Justice Klein," Chang said.

Klein -- who is not related to the boy -- was one of the five Supreme Court justices who selected Lindsey, Wong and Jervis to the Kamehameha Schools board.

While the high court no longer picks Kamehameha Schools trustees and has recused itself from hearing cases involving the trust, the Klein incident posed a serious ethical question for both organizations.

Lindsey declined comment, but Klein confirmed that he spoke with the former trustee after the child's mother, a longtime friend, asked him to put in a good word. Klein said he saw no conflict in the request and added that school administrators were welcome to ignore his recommendation.

"The fact of the matter is, judges recommend children and people for jobs (and schools) all the time, whether it's Punahou Schools or Kamehameha Schools," said Klein, who is now in private practice. "That's what judges do. That's what people do in this community. If you know somebody, you give them a recommendation."


Trustees often received requests for favorable treatment.
In this telephone message, Gary Rodrigues, state director
of the United Public Workers Union, asked trustee Wong,
an ex-UPW official, to pull strings for his secretary's son.
The student had made the waiting list but eventually
chose to attend another school.



According to Chang, Lindsey was not the only former board member who pressured him to accept students from politically connected isle families.

Former trustee Henry Peters, for instance, directed him to admit Holt's sons, while Jervis interceded on behalf of a fourth-grade student who was distantly related to Waihee, Chang said.

Chang said the Holt boys had good test scores and were on the waiting list but were admitted ahead of students who had higher scores.

The boys have since done well at Kamehameha Schools, Chang said.

Holt did not return calls, but Peters said he never interfered with school admissions.

In Jervis' case, Chang said he spoke with Jervis about Waihee's relative several times between 1995 and 1996.

Waihee and Jervis are longtime friends and associates.

Chang said that Jervis initially asked him to monitor the boy's progress through the admission process and later requested an update on the student's status.

But sometime after March 1996, Jervis called him again to ask whether the child would get in. Chang then told Jervis that the student did well on his entrance exams but did not make the list of top students in his district.

At that point Jervis ordered him to admit the student, telling him that "we need to have this boy in Kamehameha," Chang said.

Chang said he later told Jervis that he would "do what is needed for the child to get in," and later told the school's admission committee that they would have to admit another student who "was not in direct line with one they might have chosen."

Jervis declined comment, and Waihee said he never asked Jervis to intercede on behalf of a relative.

Within the Hawaiian community, admission to Kamehameha Schools carries special meaning: Students not only receive a top-notch education at little cost, but they are exposed to the cultural values and the historical legacy of the school's founder, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.

Until recently, the school accepted about 450 students a year from between kindergarten and the 12th grade.

About 4,500 students applied, which means the school accepts only one out of every 10 prospects.

According to Chang, problems began to surface after 1991 when school administrators implemented a policy that allowed the favoritism to exist. Under a directive from Chang's then-immediate supervisor, Rowena Blaisdell, evaluations by the admissions committee became recommendations, or guidelines for entry, Chang said.

Previously, the committee, which is made up of Kamehameha Schools teachers and counselors, had the final say, he said.

The move effectively took the admission decisions from career educators and placed it in the hands of the estate's politically connected trustees and top administrators.

Rockne Freitas, who later replaced Blaisdell as Chang's immediate supervisor, interceded on behalf of a relative of Big Island businessman Larry Mehau, Chang said.

The student had high entrance scores; however, there were several students who had scored above her, Chang said.

Freitas, who is now the acting director of the trust's Ke Alii Pauahi Scholarship Fund, denied ordering Chang to admit a student.

Freitas did recall inquiring about the status of a student's admission but said he could not remember the student's name or family connections. He said he asked Chang whether it was proper to inquire about the student's status and was told it was not.

"When he said no, I backed off," Freitas said.

Mehau, a backer of former Govs. John Burns and George Ariyoshi, is a friend of Freitas and former trustee Wong. According to a series of telephone messages in early 1999, Mehau and Wong met with several state senators, who voted against Margery Bronster's reconfirmation as attorney general.

The much-criticized vote came as Bronster was conducting civil and criminal investigations of the former trustees. Mehau could not be reached for comment.

Chang also testified that school President Michael Chun directed him to accept students on three or four occasions. While Chang said he could not remember whether the students were connected to prominent local families or to trust staffers, he recalled that he did not object because the students were academically qualified to attend Kamehameha Schools.

Still, they were moved ahead of applicants who had higher scores.

Chun declined to address the specifics of Chang's testimony, saying he had not seen it. But in general, he said that the school does not use a numerical ranking system to admit students.

All students who make the waiting list are academically qualified and eligible for admission.

Input from teachers and administrators, he added, carry some weight in the admission process.

Chun said that he and other administrators have given their input on admissions of students, but he said they never ordered the admissions department to accept certain students.

He added that admissions staffers were free to question recommendations from their higher-ups.

Chun added that he did not know many of the students whom he recommended over the years, adding that for students on the waiting list who had similar entrance scores, he usually recommended the student who had a greater financial need.

"Let's say you have one more spot, and you have 10 people with the same score, and they're all on the wait list. What do you do?" Chun said. "It becomes subjective at that point."

But Chang testified that the political influence over admissions took its toll. "When there's intercession by anybody, this is something that compromises any system."


YESTERDAY

Major influence: Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate ran a potent lobbying and political action network.

TOMORROW

The new estate: Under a new chief executive the trust has implemented major reforms. However, the political legacy of the former trustees continues to haunt the trust.




Kamehameha Schools archive


Director says
red-dot entry policy
did not exist at schools

A judge said those with red dots
by their names would be accepted
despite qualifications

By Rick Daysog
Star-Bulletin

Kamehameha Schools did not rely on a red-dot system to improperly admit elementary school students, according to sworn testimony by the school's admissions director.

In an Aug. 11, 1998, deposition taken in preparation for the trial to oust Lokelani Lindsey, the school's admissions director, Wayne Chang, took issue with a controversial charge by retired Judge Patrick Yim, the court-appointed fact-finder who investigated the Kamehameha Schools campus controversy in 1997.

Yim's scathing report alleged that the trust officials ordered admissions committee members to accept elementary school students on a list whose names were marked by red dots, regardless of their qualifications.

According to Chang's testimony, administrators used a system of red, blue and green dots to monitor students who were already accepted or who were in the process of applying for admission. But it was not used for admitting applicants.

Chang said administrators used the dot system to "bird-dog" parents to ensure that they met various application deadlines.

Chang said he told Yim when he was compiling his fact-finding report that a red-dot system of preferential admissions did not exist.

But he said Yim disregarded his explanation. Yim declined comment.

"He said it and it's been in the paper, and now ... we're telling people there is no red-dot system," Chang said in his deposition. "A parent may call in and say, 'How can I get my child's name to have a red dot by it?' That's anguish and that's, you know, anger and saying, 'I know that you can manipulate the system.'"



Kamehameha Schools archive



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