Details bog down charter schools panel
The board, formed to OK new applicants, has hit snags and delayed new sites
STORY SUMMARY »
The new panel charged with approving charter schools has gotten off to a bumpy start.
At its most recent meeting on June 27, the Charter School Review Panel approved only one new school, leaving seven other applicants in limbo. And it turns out that decision was invalid because it was made in executive session.
The panel, which is still short four of its 12* members, also has run into questions of an apparent conflict of interest, in that some members represent existing charter schools, which stand to lose money if new schools are approved to share in a fixed budget.
Three new charter schools are authorized this year. The panel meets again today and tomorrow.
FULL STORY »
One week into the school year, a new panel in charge of approving charter schools has been running into obstacles and causing delays for seven competing applicants eager to open their doors this semester.
There are also questions of an apparent conflict of interest in that some panel members represent existing charter schools, which stand to lose money if new schools are approved to share in the fixed budget.
The Charter School Review Panel was created by the Legislature this spring to take the power of authorizing new charters away from the Board of Education. The move was intended to give the school board more time to focus on broader educational issues affecting the state's 286 public schools.
But the 12-member* panel, which started this summer and is short four members, has struggled to do its job, said member Ku Kahakalau.
"We are a half a year behind on our time line, and that was our biggest concern from the very beginning," said Kahakalau, director of Kanu 'o ka 'Aina charter school in Waimea on the Big Island. The applicants, she said, "are certainly not happy with the delay."
At a June 27 meeting at the state Capitol, the panel spent four hours in executive session and voted to allow Kamaile Elementary to convert to a charter school, rejected plans from five startup applicants and asked for more information from two applicant schools.
Three new schools are authorized this year.
But the decisions were voided because they were improperly made in executive session. There also was confusion among members who apparently missed the motion that had called for the nonpublic session.
A proposal for a Hauula Public Charter School failed despite the support of nine people who urged panel members to accept it, minutes of the meeting show. Dovey Silva, a former city bus driver, claimed she has been teaching a group of Hauula students without money for three years.
"Imagine what I can do with funding," she said.
Members also turned down charters for Akamai Secondary, Hawaii Connections Academy, Kau Public Charter School and Kawaikini New Century. They planned to send feedback letters to two other applicants, Hawaii Tech Academy and Kona Pacific.
Charter schools are public schools that enjoy autonomy from the state Department of Education on curriculum, spending and personnel decisions but have struggled with less per-pupil funding than regular public schools.
Charters can open at any time because they do not have to follow a unified school calendar.
Funding for the three school openings this year was originally included in the budget but later taken out, and charter schools received a lump sum of $51 million in May based on projected enrollment for the fall semester, said Maunalei Love, interim executive director of the Charter Schools Administrative Office.
Each of some 6,200 charter students is funded by about $8,000 this year, up from previous years but still below the more than $10,252 per student going to traditional K-12 schools, officials said.
If new charters open, however, enrollment could jump by 700 to 800 students, and existing schools would lose some money. All but one of the seven review panel members -- school board member Denise Matsumoto -- are affiliated with established charter schools.
Panel member Alvin Parker, director of Ka Waihona O Ka Na'auao charter school in Waianae, said the group did not try to postpone new charters in order to preserve their schools' finances.
"There was no malice intended. That needs to be stressed," he said of the June meeting.
Matsumoto agreed, and noted the law requires the four vacant seats on the panel to be filled with non-charter school people to avoid conflicts of interest. She added that applicants who feel they are unfairly denied a charter can appeal the panel's decision to the school board.
"The board would be that balance, that check, because then if it was shown that, hey, they shouldn't have been denied, there's an obvious conflict of interest here," she said, "that would be obvious to the board."
There are currently 27 charter schools -- 23 startups and four conversion schools. The review panel meets again today and tomorrow to review the applications.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
» A panel created to authorize charter schools will have 12 members when all appointments are made. Articles on Page A1 and A7 Monday incorrectly said the Charter School Review Panel would have 11 members.