Friday, March 29, 2002
to charter schools
By Lisa Asato
The state's 22 charter schools each will receive between $17,000 and $263,000 more for the current school year, the state auditor said yesterday.
According to auditor Marion Higa, the adjustment is up to $588 per student on Oahu and $567 per student on neighbor islands, bringing the per-pupil allocations to $3,585 and $3,564, respectively.
But charter school officials, who have been fighting for more equity in per-pupil funding, said the state is typically late in handing over money to charter schools, and they questioned when the funds would be received.
"It's one thing on paper to say we're getting $500 more; it's another to be in the bank account and be accessed," said Ku Kahakalau, director of Kanu O Ka Aina New Century Public Charter School on the Big Island.
"Once I can access the money I will have something positive to say," she said, adding that the state is seven months behind in giving charter schools its yearly share of a federal grant, which the schools had all "banked on," and some are taking out loans just to survive day to day. Now in the fourth quarter, the schools are still waiting to receive the remaining $997 from its original per-pupil allocation of $2,997.
Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said she did not know when the schools would receive the additional funds, but said it would be done "as soon as possible."
"We just got (the figures) today, I received a copy today and we've already started working on it," she said.
Hawaii's charter schools are funded by state dollars but are free from most regulations except in areas like collective bargaining and health and safety. They remain accountable for student performance and funding through a contract or charter with the Board of Education.
"Any money that we get is good news, so I would really like to see it first," said John Thatcher, a teacher at Connections New Century Public Charter School, which is suing the state for failing to adequately provide for charter schools in areas like funding and facilities. Current funding, he said, is at a level "that almost ensures that we won't be in existence much longer."
The allocation to other public schools is based on the per-pupil cost of about $6,000, but department officials say that is deceiving because some of the money goes directly to other departments to pay for things like health benefits.
Higa said the funding increases take into account the amount of federal impact aid the department expects to receive, pay increases for teachers, as well as administrative functions the department wants to transfer to the charter schools.
"A large chunk of it is utilities, they're giving the schools the cash equivalent to go ahead and pay their own utility bills," Higa said.
Donna Estomago, principal of Lanikai Elementary School, said the
increase her school will receive is still short of what the school needs because it is based on 310 students, which excludes the school's 48 special-education students, most of whom attend regular-education classes full time.
The per-pupil allocations don't include special education funding.
"We won't meet our bare bones budget if they hold us to 310," she said. "We have to be paid for at least half of our special-needs children because we have a complete enrollment of 358 at our schools."
Estomago also worried whether the funds granted to take over certain functions, including classroom cleaners and repair and maintenance, would be sufficient. "We are worried that it will cost us more money, that's what our fear is and I think it will be substantiated," she said.
Thatcher said by law charter schools have the right to negotiate what functions it wants to take over from the department. Higa said the per-pupil adjustments were made with that in mind, and the schools will have to work out the details with the department.