Charter school seeks fair funding as students, faculty stage rally

Saturday, April 23, 2005 2:30 PM

WAILUKU – About a fourth of the Kihei Public Charter High School campus rallied Friday outside the State Office Building on High Street to fight for equitable funding.

The public demonstration was one of several held simultaneously statewide as charter schools joined together to publicly urge the Legislature and the Department of Education to provide for stable and predictable budgets – and for funding at levels that the law dictates the schools should have.

At Kihei High School (the only charter campus on Maui), Executive Director Mark Christiano said he finds it difficult to make decisions about staff hirings and program offerings because he doesn’t know what level of funding the school will have for each year.

The formula for how much charter schools will receive from the DOE allocation has changed each year. Charter school leaders say the approved amounts from the DOE are nowhere near the appropriations for regular public schools.

In fact, Jim Shon, executive director of the Charter School Administrative Office, says the state Legislature’s current budget proposal shows a $7 million to $9 million shortage in what charter schools can expect to get from the state.

“We want the public funds to do the best job we can,” Christiano said. “But every year it’s hard to plan and we have to wait to see what the state will give us.”

To emphasize the issue, about 20 students and another half-dozen faculty members lined High Street to wave signs and get public attention about their situation.

Christiano said the rally served as an opportunity for the school to dismiss public perceptions that Kihei High School is a private campus or an alternative learning center.

“It’s just as much about telling people about who we are,” Christiano said.

Senior Jessica Sickinger, who stood alongside classmates on High Street Friday and shouted at motorists, said she enjoys attending Kihei High School.

“It’s really open and fun, and you have an opportunity to learn a lot,” Sickinger said. “We may not be Baldwin or Maui High, but we’re a good school.”

Freshman Morgan Hosburgh said a lot of her peers have incorrect impressions about her school and what the students are accomplishing under the direction of a community-based school board.

“They think we won’t go to college,” she said.

Senior Justin Pitts, who has been enrolled for only one quarter at Kihei High School, said he’s found he likes the opportunity to work independently and at his own pace. He chose to attend the Friday rally over working on projects in the classroom.

“I’d rather be out here and showing my support so that more people can come to this school,” Pitts said.

“It sounded like a lot of fun,” senior Jamie Miller added.

Christiano said he believed the students’ participation gave them the opportunity to support their school and learn about their government. “I think the kids have the right to see how the system works,” he said.

At the rally, Christiano presented a letter signed by the leaders of all 27 charter schools in Hawaii to George Kaya, Gov. Linda Lingle’s liaison on Maui.

The letter thanks Lingle for finding additional funds for charter schools and asks that more money be found to make funding more aligned with public school allotments.

Kaya said he planned to pass on the letter to the Governor’s Office on Oahu.

Charter school officials estimate public schools get as much as $10,000 per student, while charter schools get just half that much per pupil. Christiano said he recognizes that charter schools may not need a full $10,000 per student because the campuses do not have the same kind of costs, such as busing and some programs.

But he wants what he believes is a fairer share.

Charter schools estimate there will be 5,704 students enrolled on the 27 campuses statewide in the next year.

Kihei High School currently serves about 115 students, but Christiano said he collected 41 new registrations in March – the most ever for one month – and expects enrollment to reach 140 to 150 for the 2005-06 school year.

While operating independently of the state Department of Education, charter schools are required to adhere to the same educational standards and collective bargaining agreements as other public schools managed by the DOE.

Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at

Copyright © 2004 The Maui News.