Honolulu charter school stops paying teachers, runs out of money

The problem of underpaid teachers is not new, but there’s a charter school in Honolulu where the teachers are not getting paid.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association says teachers at Halau Lokahi Charter School did not get paid last payday, and were only paid about half their salary in the previous paycheck. When the teachers’ union asked the school why, the principal said the school has run out of money.

Now, there’s a possibility that the school will shut down.

KHON2 spoke with Tom Hutton, executive director of the Charter School Commission, who said that the school was basically operating well beyond its budget and has now dug itself a financial hole of up to $400,000.

While Halau Lokahi on Waiakamilo Rd. has been around for 14 years, in the last few years, Hutton says the school has been unable to pay its bills by the end of the school year, so it uses money for the following year.

“So by paying back the previous year’s funding out of the current year’s funding, this year it caught up to them,” Hutton said.

Hutton said the school is now bankrupt and can’t pay its rent, staff and other bills, so he will recommend to the commission that the school shut down.

“The optimal outcome for everybody would be for the governing board to voluntarily close the school,” he said. “It’s in the best interest for the students and families to know their situations and figure out their options for the coming year.”

Hutton said funding was also cut short because of a drop in enrollment. There were 50 fewer students in the past school year and charter schools get $6,000 in funding per student from the state. That drop in enrollment amounts to a $300,000 cut in the school’s budget.

Both Hutton and the teachers’ union say the school should have done something to offset that. They blame the principal and the governing board, which manages the budget.

“I think they needed to inform the teachers,” said HSTA president Wil Okabe. “They needed to inform the teachers that they were headed to this type of situation so that the teachers had an opportunity to get part-time jobs.”

KHON2 called the school several times to talk to the principal and went to the school but had no luck reaching a school official.

Surprisingly enough the only person willing to talk in support of the administration is a teacher who says the school just isn’t getting enough money.

“It’s almost a miracle that we do what we do with regards to educating a lot of the underprivileged, primarily native Hawaiian, students,” said teacher Junior Coleman.

Coleman said closing the school isn’t the answer and the school needs more funding instead.

The governing board will meet with the Charter School Commission on Thursday to discuss what should be done.

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