Commission needed to make decisions on school closings
A bill to set up a panel to review the possibility of eliminating some public schools is advancing in the state Legislature.
IF Hawaii finds building a new public school difficult, closing an old one might be an even more formidable task. Residents who have come to identify with the schools in their communities, nearby businesses that depend on a school's population, parents and students, as well as settled teachers and staff would be unlikely to welcome shutting down campuses.
That's why an independent body might be necessary to decide on which schools, if any, should be shuttered when student numbers begin to decline. A commission, as proposed in a bill that is moving through the state Legislature, would be better able to make objective determinations.
The measure would create a panel to develop standards for schools to be closed, expanded or consolidated contingent on the number of students they serve and whether buildings and other facilities are worth the costs of repair and maintenance. The commission also would figure out where new schools should be built.
The idea for the possible school closings arose after a report last year by Governor Lingle's Economic Momentum Commission, which noted that nearly half of the state's schools "are significantly overbuilt" for the number of students attending them "while another 25 percent are overcrowded."
Population shifts from urban neighborhoods to the suburbs combined with aging families in older communities have left some schools short of students, but in newer housing developments, schools are "bursting at the seams," the report said.
The imbalance is an important consideration as the state strives to provide improved public education and the classrooms, labs, cafeterias and gyms needed to accommodate students. However, there are also other calculations.
If an under-used school is closed, there has to be enough space, equipment and staff at other schools to absorb them. In addition, if smaller schools do better in educating students, as is generally thought, consolidating schools could affect educational quality. Moreover, school populations in communities are cyclical. A neighborhood may house large numbers of school-age children in one decade and dwindling counts in the next as children grow older.
A Department of Education spokesman says the DOE already has rules in place to consider closing schools when certain benchmarks are reached, such as when decreases in enrollment leave one third or more of a school's classrooms vacant. However, that has never happened.
A commission could spur a fresh review of school facilities and could lead to better use of funds for education.