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5 Oahu churches slapped with lawsuit

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Aug 15 2013 06:25:00 PM HST

Five Oahu churches have been slapped with a lawsuit accusing them of underpaying to use public school facilities.

HONOLULU -

Mitch Kahle has made a name for himself in this town over the separation of church and state.

But he says this lawsuit is not about the First Amendment.

"This is really a real-estate case of non-payment of rent and utilities, that’s what this case is all about,” said Kahle.

"When we looked at this and how much money was being lost, we realized this should be brought as a whistle-blower's suit to get the money back," said Honolulu attorney Jim Bickerton.

It's a rare filing and rather ironic, in that Kahle is suing on behalf of the state.

"Over the last six years, these churches have extracted $5.6 million dollars from the Department of Education to the detriment of our state's children who rely on those funds," Bickerton said.

The suit claims that the churches filed false statements under-representing their use of  state facilities.

The suit names New Hope Ministries, which for years used Farrington High School,

Kaiser High School, and Kapolei Middle School for their weekend services.

“In one writing on the Internet they say one thing and in their application they say something different. That doesn’t happen by accident," Bickerton said.

The suit maintains that taxpayers are being exposed to huge liabilities-- and raised questions about a practice to give keys to the church groups to get access during off hours.

"New Hope Oahu at Farrington had a huge roll of keys that they used to access any facility on campus. They used at least eight classrooms, the gym the auditorium, the entire weekend, and they did this for 17 years,” said Holly Huber a co-plaintiff in the case.

Huber says the fees to rent school facilities have not changed since 2008.

She says the DOE is losing money by renting their facilities by failing to raise their fees, and not charging enough for utilities and water.

"It's long overdue, yet the DOE has not increased the rates, even though they are supposed to look at it every other year," said Huber.

And Kahle goes a step further alleging that the school superintendent Kathy Matayoshi of covering up the internal practices.

 "She in effect was acting improperly, and giving benefits to the churches to the detriment of public schools and public school children, And to be honest with you, we are outraged about this," said Kahle.

A DOE spokeswoman denies that was the case.

The attorney general declined comment.

As did the Calvery Chapel Oahu and One Love Ministries, the other two churches names in the suit.

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