Charter school to learn fate
Three years after it avoided being shut down, Na Wai Ola Waters of Life Charter School could be placed on probation or lose its charter today for operating on agricultural land without required permits, officials said.
The K-12 school has been teaching children out of two rented houses at Hawaiian Paradise Park near Hilo on the Big Island since at least last fall, said Big Island planning department Director Chris Yuen. Yuen said residents have complained to the department about the school.
Waters of Life, with about 180 students, has until Feb. 27 to close one of the sites or face daily fines that start at $100, Yuen said. The department also sent the school a letter warning it to close the other home by Feb. 19.
School administrator and principal Katheryn Crayton-Shay declined to comment and said she would leave a message with the local school board.
Cherie Benevides, a former Waters of Life school board member, denied any wrongdoing by the school, which she said operates out of several locations. Benevides, now a member of a nonprofit that raises money for the school, said its ninth-graders have been taking classes at the two Paradise Park homes since the school year began last summer.
"They've put in for all their permits and done everything that they are supposed to do," said Benevides, whose son attends eighth grade at the school.
The Charter School Review Panel will meet today at 4 p.m. at the Board of Education's conference room to consider revoking Waters of Life's charter or giving it one year to resolve the matter, said panel chairman Alvin Parker.
It will be the first such decision for the panel, which took the power of approving and revoking charters, as well as choosing the top charter school official, away from the Board of Education through a bill passed by the Legislature.
The panel wants to help the school comply with county land regulations, Parker said, noting that revoking a charter would be a "dramatic" step that would essentially block the school's entire state funding of about $1.6 million.
"They may get the permit, everything goes away, everyone is happy," he said. "It's much more reasonable to protect the children from finding a new school in such a short notice. ... It does not seem to serve the purpose to revoke the charter, but to allow it some time to settle this issue."
This is not the first time that Waters of Life has been in trouble.
The state tried to close the school in 2001, a year after its inception, because it was more than $200,000 in debt, but a Hilo judge ordered the school to be put on probation instead. In 2005, the Board of Education agreed to keep the school open as long as it paid back the debt, addressed school location and zoning concerns, and resolved financial management problems outlined in a critical state audit.