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Friday, March 24, 2000

Smaller schools may add
up to more multitrack

By Lori Tighe


The Board of Education's policy to build future schools smaller appears to have an effect the board didn't predict.

The policy may inadvertently produce more multitrack schools, which teach children yearlong, to allow more students to go to the smaller schools.

"It's our fault. We need to take responsibility for our policy. You are between a rock and a hard place," school board Chairwoman Denise Matsumoto told Department of Education officials at last night's board meeting.

"We're going to review the small-schools policy to see if we need to make it clearer and put more options in it besides multitrack," Matsumoto said.

Case in point became the future Mililani Mauka II Elementary School. Due to housing developments sprouting up, Mililani's population has soared and resulted in overcrowded schools.

Lester Chuck, a facilities official, asked the board to waive its small-school policy to build a school for 600 students rather than the maximum 550 allowed.

The school would have to become a multitrack, he told the board, to hold even more students, upward of 870 at a given time.

Mililani needs three new schools, but developers only committed to building two schools with 1,000 students each -- before the Board of Education's small-schools policy came into practice.

Multitracking shoehorns more students into a school by splitting them into four groups. Three groups use the school at any given time, while one group is on break.

"The Department (of Education) just wants direction from the board so we can plan the school by 2003," Chuck said. "We're trying our best to follow the board's policy."

The board decided to top Chuck's request by recommending a waiver for even more students, 650.

"I'm comfortable with the waiver. They need three schools out there and we're only going to build two," said Vice Chairwoman Karen Knudsen.

Parents, teachers and students testified in favor of the multitracking, saying it offers many benefits, the best among them higher test scores.

"While not perfect, the multitrack schedule has its benefits for middle-school aged children: such as shorter breaks, a smaller school atmosphere, and enthusiastic teachers," said Owen and Karen Matsunaga, parents of a middle-school child and three elementary school children.

But parent Laura Brown disagreed. "Schools need to be bigger, not smaller, to accomplish smaller ratios ... The combination of the smaller-schools policy and the multitrack policy has put our community between a rock and a hard place: too many children, not enough schools and a community in turmoil due to unworkable school schedules."

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