O`ahu-based bureaucracy is consuming larger and larger portions of the State Department of Education budget. Smaller and smaller percentages of the State’s education dollars are reaching the classroom. But instead of cutting bureaucracy, Senators Lorraine Inouye and Roz Baker have a different solution—close down rural schools and sell them to developers. Their bill, HB2972, passed the Legislature April 29 and is now sitting on Governor Lingle’s desk awaiting a veto decision. The bill creates a Facilities Alignment Commission and directs it to consider closure of 15 Big Island schools and dozens of O`ahu schools for the 2012-13 school year.
Angry parents crowded into meetings June 6 in Laupahoehoe, June 10 in Honoka`a and June 14 in Pa`auilo. Pointing at Dwight Takamine, one Honoka`a parent shouted “my fourth grader brought a note home telling me about this weeks ago. Why was this done without notice to the parents or the community?” Ted Hong, a former UH Regent facing Takamine in the red-hot Senate District 1 election contest said: “You are not telling us the truth.” Takamine voted for the bill every time up to the very last vote on April 29 when he voted ‘no.’ Inouye voted for the bill every time it came before her including April 29. Only four Representatives and three Senators opposed the bill in its final form. Most of the Big Island schools targeted are in the Senate district being vacated by Inouye and sought by Takamine and Hong.
The Honoka`a meeting called by Council Rep. Dominic Yagong. Many in the audience said “Vote no on Takamine and Inouye.” After an hour of testimony, Inouye, in the midst of launching her Big Island mayoral campaign, finally blurted out, “OK, I made a mistake”. Inouye’s mayoral campaign is based heavily on her Senate experience but apparently it had not occurred to her that parents might be upset to discover they could lose their schools.
The bill’s target list includes all schools in the Laupahoehoe and Honoka`a complexes—potentially forcing students to travel long distances to the next nearest facilities in Hilo or Waimea. Also targeted are all elementary schools in Hilo and Waiakea Complexes. In addition to the Big Island schools targeted, O`ahu schools targeted include all schools in the Kaimuki and Waialua complexes and all elementary schools in Castle, Farrington, Kahuku, Kailua, Kaiser, Kalaheo, and Pearl City complexes—rural O`ahu plus urban areas where artificial boundary lines can have a large impact on enrollment.
Testifying in favor of school closures were developers and real estate interests. Karen Nakamura, Chief Executive Officer of the Building Industry Association of Hawai`i testified February 26 before the House Finance Committee that her association was in favor of the bill. Her main interest appears to be in the disposition of what she termed “prime pieces of real estate” on which many schools are built. The finance committee voted to approve the bill with its Big Island member, Faye Hanohano (D-Puna), voting ‘aye’.
On March 12 in front of the Senate Education Committee, support from BIA-Hawaii was joined by testimony from the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai`i, the Hawai`i Leeward Planning Conference, and the Land Use Research Foundation of Hawai`i. Testimony in opposition came from DOE Superintendent Pat Hamamoto.
In early versions of the bill, the commission to be formed would present proposals for new schools, as well as consolidation and closure of old schools. Kihei, Maui and West Hawaii were cited as areas with strong population growth. Administration officials expressed concern that the commission would be made up almost entirely of DoE employees appointed by the House Speaker and Senate President.
But on March 27, the Senate Ways and Means Committee chaired by Roz Baker (D-South Maui, W Maui) sharply changed the bill. Baker had been embarrassed in mid-March by House colleagues who “forgot” to include $20 million funding for construction of the $100 million new Kihei High School in her district.
With small schools providing little excuse for additional lucrative school construction contracts, relocating students into fewer schools can create excuses for new construction. The abandoned school sites can be sold to developers. The building industry will benefit at both ends of the deal.
The list of schools to be considered for closure was first posted April 3. Charter schools are immune from consideration. Although new charter schools are subject to a DoE “cap”, conversion charter schools are still permitted under DoE rules. This may be an option for parents seeking to save their school from the auction block.
Governor Lingle has until July 8 to sign or veto the measure. Messages may be sent to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Big Island schools considered for closure under HB 2972:
Waiakea Complex El Schools:
Laupahoehoe HS and El
Honoka`a High & Int
Pa`auilo El & Int
Hilo Complex El Schools:
Hilo Union El
Kalanianaole El & Int