School mergers being studied
The BOE predicts controversy as it looks into saving money where enrollments have shrunk
Predicting it could become "a hot issue," the state Board of Education yesterday began looking into consolidating schools as a way to save money.
The idea, which is still in its early stages, calls for having large schools absorb students from smaller nearby schools with declining enrollment. It has the potential to save millions of dollars of taxpayer money, proponents say. But it also is certain to anger some school officials, parents, students and communities.
The issue is coming up now because of an administrative rule that requires the state to study it when schools meet certain conditions for consolidation.
Schools that could potentially be considered for closure need to be experiencing vacant classrooms and a drop in enrollment. Other factors include whether adjoining schools can accommodate the extra students without spending too much money to build more classrooms.
As an example, the state Department of Education put together a preliminary study that identified at least four clusters of elementary schools that fall under those conditions.
Among the findings:
» Aina Haina Elementary could take all the students from Wailupe Valley Elementary, which has a capacity for 208 students but has only 114 this year.
» Aliiolani Elementary in Kaimuki could take all the students from Liliuokalani Elementary, which has a capacity for 267 students but only enrolled 124 this year.
» Enchanted Lake Elementary could take all the students from Keolu Elementary, which has a capacity for 278 students but only 181 this year.
» Kaunakakai Elementary on Molokai could take the students from Maunaloa Elementary, which can hold 121 students but currently has 57.
The figures were presented yesterday during a briefing at a board committee meeting on support services.
Randolph Moore, acting assistant superintendent of the DOE's office of business services, said there are no plans to consolidate the schools mentioned in the study, stressing they were being used strictly as an example.
"This is what it would look like if they wanted us to go and do it," he said. "It is not a recommendation."
Incoming board member Eileen Clarke called the study "enlightening," but noted that the board would need a more comprehensive review to examine all the effects that a school closure carries, including teaching quality.
Member Karen Knudsen agreed, and asked the state to come back with more information so that the board can decide whether it should start looking at schools that may be merged.
"If there is a need to consolidate schools or close schools, we should take into consideration the surrounding communities and educational issues, rather than just money," she said. "We really have to go carefully with this. It can't be just cost only. But on the other hand, we do need to be fiscally responsible."
Moore said small schools that are having trouble enrolling students are more expensive to run and maintain.
But he acknowledged that resistance to a school closure can come from everyone -- from students, teachers and parents to alumni and the community.
The last Hawaii school to be consolidated was Anuenue Elementary in Honolulu, which shut down in June 1987 but reopened a few years later as an immersion school, said DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen. If the BOE were to pursue school consolidation, it would take at least a year for schools to start closing because of the need for public hearings.