Monday, July 14, 2003

Charter school wins state suit

A Hilo school that saw its funding
plummet receives a welcome,
undisclosed settlement

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> Connections Public Charter School has received a favorable settlement in its lawsuit against the state for shortchanging the school $400,000, school officials said.

The amount of the settlement was not revealed, but school Chief Executive Officer John Thatcher said the school is "very, very happy" with it.

The settlement was approved by the 3rd Circuit Court on June 18.

The suit was filed in January 2002 by the Legal Aid Society for the school after the missing $400,000 became an issue in 2001.

The decrease in funding resulted in part because the Department of Education stopped including special-education students in the school's student count, and because the department prevented the school from using its former facility at Mountain View School without providing funding for a new facility.

The school now operates in a converted department store in downtown Hilo.

"All financial issues were settled to what the (local school) board perceives as beneficial to the school, ensuring our continuing financial well-being," Thatcher said. "We also made essential progress concerning substantive issues regarding access to grants, delivery of services and school autonomy," Thatcher said.

Some of the decisions will also benefit all of Hawaii's charter schools, said Connections board Chairman Larry Jackson.

Deputy Attorney General Russell Suzuki, who represented the Department of Education, said some of the problems arose because charter school laws were not specific about how some matters should be handled.

With a new law defining those matters, Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto and the Board of Education want to work on greater collaboration with the charter schools, he said.

"If we can get over the growing pains, the charter schools and the regular schools can complement each other," he said.