Charter school classes slashed

By Hunter Bishop/ Tribune-Herald

Insufficient state funding for charter schools will mean the elimination of high school classes at the Connections Public Charter School in Hilo, a school official said Tuesday.

About 70 Connections students will be affected by the decision to end the high school classes, said John Thatcher, a Connections teacher and vice president of the private Hawaii Association of Charter Schools.

"It's very unfortunate," Thatcher said. "A lot of kids want to stay here. Some of the students were so upset about it they called the governor's office."

The Connections school will continue to operate in the S. Hata Building on Kamehameha Avenue for students through 8th grade, but the upper - level students will have to find another school to attend in August, Thatcher said.

Thatcher said Connections, which started as a "school - within - a - school" at Mountain View Elementary in 1994, could no longer afford to operate the high school. High school students are required to have counselors and other personnel that the charter school has no funds for, he said.

Charter schools statewide and the state Department of Education have been at odds for more than a year over the level of funding allocated to charter schools, which were established by law in 1999 to provide alternative public school settings with their own policy - making boards of education. Connections was the first to be chartered on the Big Island, which has 11 of the 22 charter schools currently operating in Hawaii.

Connections sued the state earlier this year, alleging that the Board of Education breached its contract with the school over the amount of money that it would receive per pupil in operating funds.

Thursday, Third Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura denied the school's motion for summary judgment on the matter. No trial date was set. The school is currently mulling its legal options in the case, said attorney David Kimo Frankel of the Legal Aid Society, who is representing the charter


Thatcher said the school must pay its operating expenses, plus rent on its facility, from less than half the per - pupil amount given to regular public schools.

Initially, the Legislature agreed to offer funds equal to the amount provided students in the regular public schools, but later adopted a law that turned the formula for charter - school funding over to the state auditor.

A recent additional allocation of about $500 per pupil was "nice," Thatcher said, "but they didn't discuss it with us, which they are supposed to do by law.

"The auditor brushed us off and listened only to the DOE," Thatcher said.

The Department of Education, with a $1.3 billion budget, lists the "true cost" of educating a student at about $6,500.

The school is now getting about $3,500 "on paper," Thatcher said. "We've only seen about $2,000 per kid. We don't get anything for special education. Where's the money going?"