Decision on charter budget is postponed

by Nancy Cook Lauer
Stephens Honolulu Bureau

HONOLULU -- When the state Board of Education meets today in Hilo, it will be voting on an operating budget and capital improvement budget for the public school system. But the board won't be voting on the charter school budget.

Instead, the BOE Committee on Budget and Fiscal Accountability deferred the charter school budget for the second time on Wednesday, after committee Chairman Garrett Toguchi announced he had concerns about portions of it that he needed to discuss with the state attorney general.

"There are a lot of issues that have come up," Toguchi told the board. "I want to make sure we go down the right path."

The sudden postponement surprised members of the Hawaii Charter School Network, several of whom had flown from Neighbor Islands to attend the board meeting. Even some employees of the Charter School Administrative Office were taken aback. The budget is already weeks behind schedule. Budget proposals were supposed to be in Gov. Linda Lingle's office by Sept. 11.


"I'm disappointed," said Interim Executive Director Maunalei Love, "but we stand behind the budget we proposed."

Love, one of the cofounders of the Hawaii Charter Schools Network and a local school board director at Hakipuu Learning Center, is well- regarded in the charter school community and has been trying to bridge what seems to be a widening gap between the charter schools and the BOE. She said she will serve as an interim director until January, but she hasn't decided whether to apply for the permanent position.

"I'm just happy that I can support the charter schools and the board," she said. "This is a time when we all have to work together."

The proposed budget narrative is available at http://www.hcsao.org/.



It asks for $58.4 million for operating expenses for charter schools in fiscal year 2007-08 and $61.9 million for 2008-09. That comes out to $7,175 per student for next year, a 3.3-percent increase over the 2006-07 per-student funding, the charter office says.

It also provides for three new charter schools, in keeping with state law that allows a new charter school for every existing start-up charter school that receives a three-year or longer accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges or comparable accreditation authority.

Currently, three start-up charter schools have attained accreditation -- Kihei, Myron B. Thompson Academy and West Hawaii Explorations Academy.

The new schools, if authorized by the Charter School Review Panel and the BOE, would need $2.2 million in operating expenses and $387,678 in facilities funding each year over the next two years, the charter budget proposal estimates. That's based on an average enrollment of 100 students for each new school.

Toguchi said after the meeting that his decision to postpone was a last-minute thing and occurred as he read over the proposed budget before the meeting. He declined to say what bothered him about the budget, saying he needed to talk it over with attorneys first.

Questions over the budget are just the latest in a series of controversies over the BOE's handling of charter school issues sparked by the board's Sept. 7 firing of former Executive Director Jim Shon. Charter school students and staff from four islands are planning a rally at the BOE meeting in Hilo today.

Nancy Cook Lauer can be reached at nclauer@stephensmedia.com.

 

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