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StarBulletin.com

Rough, but emotion can't sway school-closure vote


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POSTED: Monday, May 11, 2009

For the first time in more than two decades, the state Board of Education has voted to close a public school in Hawaii. The decision came after a careful analysis by a group of parents, school administrators and community members who unanimously concluded that closing Wailupe Valley Elementary would be in everyone's best interest.

Beginning next academic year, some 75 children who attend Wailupe Valley will transfer to nearby Aina Haina Elementary, a campus with higher overall student achievement, more educational programs and extra-curricular activities. The merger also will lead to about $775,000 in annual savings to the state.

Despite all those benefits, the board's decision was a difficult one to make.

Wailupe Valley is celebrating its 50th year this month, having educated thousands of isle children and serving as an important East Oahu community post. Parents and students, who consider the campus an extension of their families, have praised Wailupe's desirable small classes and dedicated staff.

Ultimately, though, it is the school board's job to ensure limited taxpayer funds are spent wisely to give students the best education. On Oahu and elsewhere in the state, the population growth has largely shifted from urban to suburban and rural neighborhoods. That means resources have to be redirected to meet the needs of areas with the most children.

To that end, similar consolidation studies are being conducted in a number of districts with small schools.

It is critical to note, however, that Wailupe Valley's closure does not set a precedent for shutting down other small schools in the state. Declining enrollment is hardly the deciding factor in making these tough choices.

State administrative rules instruct complex area superintendents in areas being considered for school consolidation to seek input from a diverse task force comprised of community members who know their neighborhood's needs best.

Amid declining state revenues, budget cuts and rising expectations of the No Child Left Behind law, it is imperative for the school board to take emotions out of the equation when it comes to merging schools and deciding what's best for Hawaii's children.

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Garrett Toguchi is chairman of Hawaii's Board of Education.