At the close of the half-hour session, kindergartner Kahaku Tolentino-Perry gets his first hands-on experience with a quarter-sized learning violin. Helping hold the instrument are fifth-grade teacher Pele Harmon and Honolulu Symphony Orchestra Director of Education John Magnuson, while violinist Emma Phillips looks on. HSO violinists Emma Phillips and Sasha Margolis teamed up Wednesday to give students at Ke Kula o Nawahio-Kalani'opu'u School, in Keaau, a practical demonstration of concert terms. The event is part of the HSO's Big Island education tour, one of seven groups offering in-school performances throughout the island for two days. Thursday evening at 7 p.m., the HSO welcomes all ages for a free concert, led by Aaron Mahi and including selected Hawaiian classics with special guest Raiatea Helm, at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort Grand Ballroom. On Friday at the same location, HSO ends its tour with two separate youth performances of "Peter and the Wolf" for grades K to 3 and 4 to 6, starting at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m., respectively. For more information: - William Ing/Tribune-Herald

Charter schools in tight times

State facilities see cut budgets, charters get ax

by Bret Yager
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

Connections Public Charter School Director John Thatcher is hoping the school can hang onto its culinary arts program.

The class is popular with the kids and they won awards in cooking this year. But it's not cheap to run, and with his school set to receive about $900 less per student this year, the program may get the ax.

"We may be able to salvage some vestiges of it, but at this point, I don't see how we're not going to cut it," Thatcher said. "If I have to cut math or cut culinary arts, which one am I going to pick? There are too many requirements for things we have to teach."

A couple of Connections teachers will depart for the mainland, but the school won't have the money to hire replacements. Thatcher will also be cutting teacher preparation time and eyeing other ways to consolidate programs and tighten belts.

"Schools are going to lose programs that go beyond the basics," Thatcher said.

The budget for the state's charter schools has actually increased this year -- from $51.6 million to more than $57 million. But that has to be spread among a projected 8,000 kids -- around 1,500 more than last year. That will reduce per-pupil spending from $8,000 to about $7,100, based on enrollment projections for the coming year that include several new schools.

But lawmakers point out that money for all of Hawaii's public schools -- and state functions in general -- has been reduced due to a budget shortfall.

That's not much comfort to Thatcher or Steve Hirakami, the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science director who says charter school budgets are being trimmed up to 14 percent, while the regular public schools are set to lose only one-third of a percent of their budget.

Public schools face a $7.7 million cut in a $2.4 billion operating budget. Schools may have to raise lunch prices, bus fares and fees on after-school programs to make up the deficit.

Hirakami is predicting a loss of about $1,000 for each of his 330 students. The temptation now for schools is to boost enrollment, but increasing one school's share of the overall pot allotted to charters would reduce the amount left for other schools, he said.

"I can see a reduction, but going all the way down to 7,100 is unconscionable," Hirakami said. "For some of the smaller schools, with 40 to 50 students, it's huge to lose 14 percent of your budget."

"We got to get lean and mean," he added.

Bret Yager can be reached at


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