Charter schools guideline supported
A scoring system would be used to judge an applicant for a new campus
Board of Education members say they like proposed rules for a panel taking over creation of new charter schools and hiring the executive director of the Charter School Administrative Office.
A scoring system by the Charter School Review Panel will grade charter applicants on their proposed curriculum and campus, enrollment projections, budget and management plans.
"We have a real objective system in place," said Frederick Birkett, principal of Lanikai Elementary Charter School and co-chairman of the panel.
The Legislature created the nine-member advisory panel last year to help formulate evaluation standards for charter schools. It includes teachers and directors from various charters, representatives from the University of Hawaii and school board member Denise Matsumoto.
Lawmakers passed a bill this session to expand the panel's duties because of concerns that charters have not been given enough attention. Legislators also said protests over the school board's firing of Jim Shon last year as executive director for charter schools could have been prevented if the panel had the power to evaluate him.
Under the measure, being considered by Gov. Linda Lingle, the school board would serve only as an appeal body for schools denied charter status.
At a school board committee meeting on charter schools this week, member Breene Harimoto told Birkett that the scoring system "is exactly what you need to do."
"I think you folks are doing a really good job," he said. "I really like what I see."
Member John Penebacker added, "I think it's legitimate and a well thought-out document."
Linda Smith, the governor's senior policy adviser, said the review panel fits into Lingle's effort to give charters more autonomy. "What we've seen so far in this bill is very promising," she said.
If the bill is approved, the panel will consider at least six charter applications pending before the school board. They include five requests for startup charter schools and an application by a school to convert to a charter.
The five startup applicants will compete for three new slots approved by the Legislature last year. Hawaii has 27 charter schools, which enjoy autonomy from the state Department of Education on curriculum, spending and personnel decisions.
Because most review panel members work with charters, school board member Kim Coco Iwamoto suggested that each sign an affidavit showing they have no connection to an applicant to avoid conflicts of interest.
Review panel member Alvin Na'awao Parker, director of Ka Waihona 'o ka Na'auao charter school in Waianae, said those who have been involved in the charter movement know best whether new applicants will be ready to operate and deal with space and money problems.
"When we got our charter, it was new to everybody," he said. "I don't think anybody really understood the challenges at that time. ... I think people now have a lot better feel for what is required to be successful."