Saturday, May 17, 2003

Lab School at UH
faces uncertain future

The curriculum testing ground
is unlikely to close, officials say

Forty seniors at the Education Laboratory School, better known as the Lab School, will receive their diplomas this afternoon, as questions arise again about the future of their alma mater.

A proposal by University of Hawaii Chancellor Peter Englert to end the university's role in managing the school, and possibly move it off campus, has triggered fears that it might shut down. But the principal said yesterday that's not likely.

"I've gotten so many calls from people worried about the school closing," Principal Jane Burke said yesterday. "We're not going to close our school. We might have a different arrangement with the university. But I really believe we'll come to some kind of consensus."

The popular school is staffed by UH employees and serves as the pilot- and field-test site for the College of Education's Curriculum Research and Development Group. Instructional materials developed there benefit public schools across Hawaii, the nation and even overseas, Burke said.

The school's 360 students, from kindergarten through 12th-grade, are chosen to represent a socioeconomic cross-section of the state.

In exchange for serving as "lab rats" for curriculum research, the students receive an education from university faculty that results in some of the best standardized test scores in the state.

The school has been graduating seniors since 1951. But its future has been clouded in recent years with budget cuts at the university and space there at a premium. Four years ago, the university stopped funding the school, and parents and alumni made up the difference with donations for two years.

In 2001, the Lab School became a public charter school funded by the state Department of Education. The charter school board now contracts with Curriculum Research and Development Group to run the school.

The school had sought a five-year contract to replace the one expiring on June 30, but instead Englert recommended a "final" one-year contract. He advised that the university's role be restricted to research, not running the school, and that the school either move or pay rent.

"University of Hawaii at Manoa cannot afford to continue subsidizing The Education Laboratory," he wrote in a memo to the UH Board of Regents. "I cannot recommend that the College of Education continue to run The Education Laboratory in the face of all the uncertain fiscal and legal commitment that it entails."

Donald Young, director of the Curriculum Research and Development Group, said the memo appeared to be based on a misunderstanding, and he is hopeful that things can be worked out.

"The university does not subsidize the school," Young said. "All of the instructional costs are currently paid out of charter school funds."

The school enjoys rent-free facilities, but in exchange the College of Education benefits by having a place to test and refine its curriculum materials, and do longitudinal research, he said.

At Thursday's meeting, the regents deferred the issue until next month.

"The proposal doesn't really mean closure of the school," said Walter Kirimitsu, the university's general counsel. "It only means a one-year period to redefine the roles of the lab school and the university, and to work out the rental arrangement."


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