Changes coming for Kalihi charter school

By Paul Drewes
Published On: Aug 03 2014 03:53:10 PM HST
Updated On: Aug 03 2014 07:29:31 PM HST

Halau Lokahi is known for immersing students in hands-on learning, but this summer the school fought just to keep the doors open.

HONOLULU -

While some students may not think of school during their summer break -- students, parents and teachers of Halau Lokahi spent their summer fighting to keep their school alive.

Click here to watch Paul Drewes' report.

Now there will be some changes to the Kalihi charter school when school starts on Aug. 14.

Halau Lokahi is known for immersing students in hands-on learning. Especially outside of the classroom in the community.

A good example of this was back in 2009, when students launched a handmade sailing canoe with the school's navigational program.

This year, the charter school itself ran into rough waters, when it fell behind financially by more than $400,000.

"On paper it looked like a large number, but in actuality our landlord has been very lenient in when we're able to pay and our vendors have been very patient," said Tiane McNeil, with the Halau Lokahi Leadership Council.

The Charter School Commission was not as patient. It threatened to pull the plug on state funding unless Halau Lokahi got rid of the current governing board, including the school director. The school also had to come up with a new financial plan.
That plan was approved this week.

"The school has a plan for paying off its debts instead of leaving these significant liabilities to the public. It can make a fresh start with new leadership," said Commission Executive Director Tom Hutton.

Old leaders are not the only things going. The school is downsizing, eliminating extra classroom space to cut costs. Some staff hours will also be reduced or even eliminated altogether. Even though some will be working fewer hours -- many still believe in the school.

"It is about the bigger picture -- the school's survival. That was most important to the staff," stated McNeil.

There will also be some additions to the school this fall. New academies, including ones focused on commercial and sustainable products will add to their current offerings of ocean learning and cultural academies.

On the financial side, the state will also monitor the charter school's finances on a monthly basis.

Last year the school had 183 students in grades K-12, but the school can hold at least 200. Lower enrollment is one of the reasons the school ran into financial difficulty.

Unlike public schools that receive nearly $12,000 per student for education, administration and campus costs, charter schools like Halau Lokahi only get about $6,200 per pupil.

Administrators tell KITV that after the financial difficulties surfaced, enrollment dropped by about 40 students. Since the board approved the school's new plan, there has already been interest in kids signing up for fall classes.

"Many families are interested. We're still conducting interviews on a daily basis and
answering phone calls about the school. We're excited about accepting new students to our family," added McNeil.

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