Land use flap could shut school sites
HILO » Officials of the Waters of Life Public Charter School say they hope to resolve a land use citation in an appeal of the county planners' action.
Without a resolution, one of the school's five teaching sites would close. The school has been warned about a second site, and a new land use violation could be issued if that matter is not taken care of.
County Planning Director Chris Yuen said the school would have 30 days to appeal the citation and that the county Board of Appeals could take 30 to 60 days to review the case. The school could have difficulty during that time to resolve problems detailed in the citation, Yuen said.
Meanwhile, the state Charter School Review Panel is considering placing the school on probation or revoking its charter for operating on agricultural land without required county special permits.
Yesterday the panel gave the attorney general's office, which is representing the school, 30 days to study the school's situation before revisiting the issue on March 27.
The K-9 school with 188 students has six facilities: an administrative office, a teaching farm, two major classroom sites at a church in Kurtistown and a community meeting hall in Ainaloa, and two smaller sites at rented houses in the Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivision.
Although the subdivision is mostly residential, it is technically agricultural, triggering a need for special permits when the school moved into the houses last fall, Yuen said.
School Director Katheryn Crayton-Shay said she depended on the two property owners to get permits. Without them -- unless an appeal is made -- one house has until Feb. 27 to close the site or face daily fines that start at $100, Yuen has said. A letter warned the school to close the other house by Tuesday.
Yuen said obtaining permits is a complicated matter that should be done by a professional. Door hardware has to be the right type, exits must be a minimum width and sewage disposal has to meet certain standards, among other requirements, he said.
Neighbors have complained about the school, he said.
While elementary-age kids made loud noise during a recess at one house, neighbor Gloria Ohyoung told the Star-Bulletin she did not file a complaint, but she did not like the screaming. "The noise is ... oh, God!" she said.
But she added, "If they get a permit, it's OK with me."
Jamie Lesperance, with her first-grade daughter from one of the teaching houses, said she will not know where to send her child to school if the two Paradise Park houses close.
Crayton-Shay said some of the total of 60 students at the two houses might transfer to other Waters of Life facilities, but many would have to drop out.
Charter School Review Panel Vice Chairwoman Ruth Tschumy said, reading from an e-mail, that Crayton-Shay has promised to update the panel by Sunday as to where students taking classes at both homes will be relocated once county employees shut them down.
"It is our duty to ensure the continuity of the education of the children of Waters of Life," Tschumy said.
In testimony, John Thatcher, principal of Connections Public Charter School, told the panel that revoking Waters of Life's charter would hurt the charter school movement.
"I am here to warn you that a course of action you appear to be contemplating could lead to a legal battle with the potential to tear our fragile community apart," he wrote.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
At a Charter School Review Panel meeting Thursday, Vice Chairwoman Ruth Tschumy read from an e-mail when she said Waters of Life Charter School had agreed to inform panel members as to where students attending classes at two Big Island sites scheduled to be closed would be relocated. Originally, this story was not clear on where her comments originated.