Saturday, October 19, 2002


State of Hawaii


Charter school gets help
with paying off deficit

The state BOE agrees to a 5-year
repayment plan for Waters of Life

By Genevieve A. Suzuki


The state Board of Education will look at nine public charter schools with deficits after passing a five-year plan for Big Island charter school Waters of Life to pay $257,000 back to the state, says board member Shannon Ajifu.

Waters of Life was the first charter school to undergo board scrutiny because its deficit was the most significant, said Ajifu, chairwoman of the board's New Century Charter Schools Committee.

"Part of it is Waters of Life started a little earlier than the rest of them," Ajifu said.

Public charter schools have complained that they aren't getting enough funding from the Board of Education.

"Public charter schools were set up to be independent from much of the bureaucracy of regular schools," said Truitt White, director at Waters of Life. "But we're getting only half the per-pupil funding and few of the support services as the public school down the street. That's making us dependent on the DOE without them providing us the necessary support."

"We're locked out of all kinds of funding available to regular schools," says John Thatcher, president of the Hawaii Association of Charter Schools and administrator at the Connections charter school in Hilo.

Waters of Life built up a spending deficit of $171,000 from fiscal 2001 owed to the state Department of Education, and then accumulated more debt in its next school year.

In June, the school board placed Waters of Life on probation and assigned it a three-year repayment plan. In August, Waters of Life asked the board to reconsider.

White said the new agreement calls for Waters of Life to repay the $257,000 in "escalating quarterly payments, with a final balloon payment at the end of five years."

Noting the board forgave other debts incurred by the charter school, Ajifu said, "Part of the plan says if they go into a deficit again they lose their charter, or if they miss their payments they will lose their charter."

"It's just to give them an opportunity to make good in meeting their financial obligation," said Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Karen Knudsen about Waters of Life's repayment plan.

Stressing that the Board of Education wants the charter schools to succeed, Knudsen said: "They were anxious to work something out."

Knudsen said the school board won't allocate more money to Waters of Life.

"They know what our limitations are," Knudsen said. "Now the burden is on them."

"It was uncertain as to how much they were going to get so it wasn't their fault. It wasn't our fault either because we weren't used to working with charter schools," Ajifu said.

Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said the experience has helped all the organizations involved grow.

Hamamoto said the charter schools, the board and the department have learned about the different procedures and budgetary issues.

"What it is is, OK? We've settled it," Hamamoto said. "Let's move on. It's a good learning lesson for all of us. It's about continuing to support charter schools so that they can succeed, It's not about failure, it's a learning lesson. It's settled. It's about how do we help them sustain."

"We're not out to get them or kill them," Ajifu said.



This story included reporting by Peter Serafin, special to the Star-Bulletin.