Posted on: Monday, November 25, 2002
Charter schools, DOE clash on special-ed money
Advertiser Education Writer
At the Hawai'i Academy of Arts and Sciences in Pahoa, where 17
percent of the students have special needs, administrators were
dismayed when they heard the campus wouldn't receive money for
"It was like a bomb," school director Steve Hirakami said.
"We're not sure what to do. We're a public school. We cannot
discriminate based on disability."
Hirakami has tried to contact the superintendent and members of
the Board of Education to make an appeal for money.
"We get, 'Sorry, but ...' " Hirakami said. "It's unbelievable."
He's asked the attorney general's office for an opinion. His
next move, he said, may be a civil rights complaint.
The Hawai'i Academy of Arts and Sciences and other charter
schools statewide appear to be headed into another battle with
the Department of Education regarding finances, this time about
money for special-education students.
Charter schools recently found out that this year they will
receive $3,805 for every regular education student, an amount
that is better than what they received last year but still less
than what regular public schools get. Hawai'i spent about $6,487
per student in 2000 school year.
But charter school officials statewide say they do not know
when, or if, their campuses will receive any money for their
special-education students. The per-pupil allotments, determined
recently by the state auditor's office, do not include
Urs Bauder with the state auditor's office said that in last
year's legislative session, lawmakers expanded the types of
funding that charter schools must receive under the law. But
they specifically left out the portion of the education budget
that deals with the Felix consent decree, the federal court
agreement to improve special-education services in Hawai'i.
"The DOE is responsible for complying and didn't want to
delegate that to the charter schools," Bauder said. "The idea is
that the DOE is going to pay the schools or provide resources."
While many schools have taken issue with the state auditor,
officials there say they are only following the charter school
legislation and cannot allocate money where it isn't authorized.
A report will be ready within a month to fully detail how the
auditor's office calculated the allocations.
"The allocation is strictly based on the law as we understand
it," Bauder said. "It's somewhat difficult to interpret in some
areas, but we follow it as close as humanly possible."
Officials in the DOE's charter schools office were not available
Previously, charter schools have clashed with the DOE on their
budgets, with the DOE and Board of Education accusing several
schools of reckless spending. Two schools have filed lawsuits
against the department, arguing that they get less state money
than other public schools. The DOE last year tried
unsuccessfully to shut down a Hilo charter school because of
allegations of inadequate facilities and overspending.
Complaints of governance problems have surfaced recently at a
A Board of Education committee this week heard complaints from
some parents of students at Ka Waihona O Ka Na'auao school, a
Wai'anae charter school that opened in July.
They said parents, teachers and faculty members of the school
board have been barred from attending their own meetings by some
community members of the board that helped organize the school.
Many parents were outraged by a recent decision by the community
faction of the board to fire the principal, two teachers and an
Last month, state Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto
requested information about the school's financial operations
and personnel decisions. The state is withholding $9,000 from
the school until its board responds to the request.
And Shannon Ajifu, chair of the state board's charter schools
committee, told other board members this week that the state may
need to step up its monitoring of the charter schools.
"We may be behaving in a more proactive manner," Ajifu said.
Despite the growing pains of a new movement, lawmakers took a
close look at charter schools last session and strengthened them
in several ways. Lawmakers have pushed the department to turn
over money to charter schools in a more timely manner. Charter
school teachers can accrue tenure and seniority in the state
system — something they had been denied before — only if they
were Department of Education teachers before transferring to a
charter school. Teachers hired directly by a charter school
accrue tenure and seniority in that school only.
While charter schools will no longer be allowed to sue the DOE
or Board of Education, and no new startup charter schools will
be allowed, Gov. Ben Cayetano in April signed into law a bill
that allows nonprofit organizations to convert regular public
schools into charter schools. It's a step that will allow
Kamehameha Schools to take over some needy campuses with large
populations of Native Hawaiian students and give those campuses
an infusion of outside money.
The Legislature also authorized an additional 23 conversion
Hawai'i was recently awarded nearly $4.4 million in federal
grant money to help set up the new public charter schools.
The $4,368,421 will be made available on a competitive basis as
grants to public schools that want to convert to charter status.
The state plans to offer about $100,000 per year to each
The seed money cannot be used to help with day-to-day
operations, but should help with the organization and start up
of a campus.
Hawai'i has 25 charter schools, three of which are conversion
schools: Lanikai and Wai'alae elementary schools and the
Education Laboratory at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.
A previous federal grant of $450,000 over a three-year period
went to existing charter schools.
Schools that have been identified by the district as needing
improvement could choose to apply in an effort to comply with
the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the new federal education
law that mandates yearly improvement in schools.
Charter schools are public schools operating under a contract,
or charter, that is created by groups of parents, teachers,
administrators and others who want to provide alternatives
within the public school system.
Of the state's 25 charter schools, about half are based on
Hawaiian culture and language.
Correction: Charter school teachers can accrue tenure and
seniority in the state system only if they were Department of
Education teachers before transferring to a charter school.
Teachers hired directly by a charter school accrue tenure and
seniority in that school only. A previous version of this story
indicated otherwise. Also, the president of the Hawai'i
Association of Charter Schools was misidentified. He is John