Teachers support charter school despite severe budget issues

Money problems at Halau Lokahi Charter School could force it to shut down, but teachers say that’s a short-sighted solution.

Tom Hutton, executive director of the Charter School Commission, told KHON2 the school is in debt to the tune of $417,000. He said the school is essentially bankrupt, which is why he will recommend to the commission to shut the school down.

But teachers say it’s a problem they can overcome.

The biggest problem, they say, came from a drop in enrollment. Charter schools are funded by the number of students that attend each year.

Hina Wong-Kalu says she and fellow teachers are standing behind the decisions made by the principal and the governing board. She says efforts continue to find money to erase the school’s debt.

“It is something that anyone would be challenged to overcome, however it is something that we will overcome. We have overcome budget shortfall each year,” she said.

Wong-Kalu says charter schools in general are not getting enough money at $6,000 per student from the state. She says mainstream public schools get up to twice as much.

“The public should be saying, ‘wow, it’s amazing how this charter school has survived despite the economic difficulties it has encountered,’” she said.

But whether it’s a mainstream school or a charter school, Sen. Jill Tokuda says when it comes to operating costs, the funding really amounts to about the same.

The chair of the Senate Education Committee says charter schools get enough money, but Halau Lokahi’s governing board mismanaged it by not cutting programs after a drop in enrollment of 50 students, which amounts to a $300,000 cut from the state.

“When you have that much of a change in your student enrollment population, you have to make drastic cuts to your operating cost. That is the burden of responsibility of your governing board,” Tokuda said.

Tokuda says the governing board has to do what is best for students and teachers, not just next year, but in the years ahead. In this case, it just might have to be closing the school down.

“Making sure that you could sustain yourself for the long haul, because that’s what’s necessary to ensure that you’re going to be able to keep your doors open for your students and for your teachers and for your community,” she said.

The school’s governing board will meet with the Charter School Commission and discuss whether the school should close down.

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