Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Heated discussion was exchanged last night between Kamehameha Schools' trustees, parents and alumni.

Angry ohana
grills trustees

Kamehameha board says
non-Hawaiian student aids
the school's tax status

By Rick Daysog

Several members of the Hawaiian community called on the Kamehameha Schools' chief executive to resign after the trust's decision last week to admit a non-Hawaiian student to its Maui campus.

During a 2 1/2-hour meeting at the Kapalama Heights campus last night, about 600 Kamehameha Schools parents and graduates grilled Chief Executive Hamilton McCubbin and board members about the controversial decision. Last week, the trust announced that it would accept a non-Hawaiian on Maui because it had accepted all Hawaiian applicants who had met its admission requirements.

"This is not about bitter parents not getting their kids into Kamehameha," Pohai Ryan, a 1980 graduate and a director of the Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association's Oahu chapter, said last night. "This is about serving our Hawaiian children. We are not here for apologies."

Kawika Trask, a 1976 graduate, called for McCubbin's resignation, saying there are thousands of children in need of a Kamehameha Schools education. The call for McCubbin's resignation was repeated several times during the night.

After the meeting, McCubbin said he had expected the calls for his resignation given the emotions involved but that he had no plans to resign.

McCubbin and the estate's board apologized for the resentment in the Hawaiian community that the decision caused, but they said the trust would not reconsider.

Pohai Ryan, a director of Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association-Oahu Region, voiced her concerns last night.

Trustee Nainoa Thompson said the decision should be seen in the context of preserving the estate's tax-exempt status.

Thompson noted that during the past six years, there have been 11 lawsuits challenging the estate's admission policies, compared with three suits between 1971 and 1995.

If the courts revoke the estate's tax-exempt status, it could cost the Kamehameha Schools about $1 billion in back taxes, Thompson noted. The trust also could end up paying about 40 percent of its future income in taxes, leaving less money to spend on educating native Hawaiian children, he said.

Clayton Hee, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee and a former Kamehameha Schools student body president, said the trust is stuck with a tough legal dilemma:

"So long as it receives a tax exempt status from the IRS, it's clear in my mind that any discriminatory policy vis-à-vis admissions or otherwise needs to be changed," Hee said yesterday when asked for comments.

"If you give up the IRS exemption, tuition will raise ten-fold. Are Hawaiians able to pick up the 10-fold increase? I doubt it," Hee said.

David Eyre, a Kamehameha Schools teacher, said he was as much concerned by the lack of input from members of the schools' ohana as he was by the decision itself. "The concern here is that we've been there and done that," he said, referring to the controversy surrounding the previous board of trustees, which was ousted in 1999.

Thompson acknowledged that the trust handled the decision poorly. "I just want to say how sorry I am for hurting so many Hawaiians," he said. "We screwed up major."

Earlier in the day, trust officials met with its advisory panels of community leaders to discuss the decision and stressed that this would not happen again and that the trust would increase its recruiting efforts and conduct a comprehensive review of its admissions criteria.

McCubbin has said schools policy dictates that qualified non-Hawaiians may be considered if there are still openings after all applicants of Hawaiian ancestry who meet admission criteria have been accepted. This was the case at the Maui campus, where available space doubled in all grades for the coming school year, he has said.

But critics complained that the decision goes against the wishes of the late Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who established the educational trust on behalf of Hawaiian children. Some graduates fear the decision could open the floodgates to non-Hawaiians who will take advantage of the relatively low tuition at Kamehameha Schools.

Jerry Ahue, a 1952 graduate, told the schools' leadership last night: "I am as upset as many other people here are. Hawaiians only have so much left."

Leroy Akamine, a 1952 classmate of Ahue's, believes that last night's meeting was constructive. The board's apology for their handling of the admissions controversy is "very important" for members of the Kamehameha ohana. He noted that the previous, embattled board never apologized for their actions.

"That's the beginning of the healing process," Akamine said.

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