Posted on: Monday, January 14, 2002

Charter school sues state officials

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i Another charter school dispute is headed to the Big Island courts after Connections New Century filed a suit against 21 state officials, including the entire state school board, over money problems.

Connections, a former Puna-based school-within-a-school in the former Kress department store in downtown Hilo, named state auditor Marion Higa and a host of others as defendants in the suit brought by the Legal Aid Society.

Herbert Watanabe, state school board chairman and Big Island member, said he could not comment on the merits of the suit, which will be defended by the state attorney general.

But he said the difference in the money paid to charter schools this year opposed to last year a 30 percent reduction is because of a legislative act and not any policy change by his board.

"The law was changed by the Legislature," he said.

David Kimo Frankel, the Legal Aid attorney, said the state had two months notice that a suit would be filed if the financial problems were not corrected. The initial demand against the state was made by private attorney Bryan Fitzgerald, whose children also attend the school.

In several ways, the dispute is similar to one the state attorney general brought against Waters of Life Charter School in September. An effort to close down that school was blocked in court and Judge Riki May Amano ordered mediation before a full-blown hearing that is scheduled for later this month.

The mediation has been under way since the beginning of the year.

Judge Greg Nakamura was assigned the Connections suit. A hearing date is expected to be scheduled late this month after the state responds to the claims by Frankel on behalf of Zakiya Msikizi, the mother of four Connection students. Since moving to Hilo, Connections' enrollment has grown to 335 students from kindergarten through the 12th grade

Charter schools receive public money and operate under DOE authority, but have freedom to devise their own curriculums and budgets.

Charters aim to increase parent involvement, experiment with different learning styles, and bring more choice to the public education system.

The state Board of Educations has approved 25 charters.