Charter school community pleads with commission to keep doors open

Hina Wong-Kalu, teacher, Halau Lokahi Charter School

The Charter School Commission saw emotional testimony Thursday from students, parents and teachers of Halau Lokahi Charter School — all of whom were trying to keep the school from shutting down.

KHON2 first reported on the school’s money problems, which totaled more than $400,000 and kept teachers and staff from getting paid. Rent has also not been paid since February.

Thursday was an opportunity for the school to persuade commission members to keep it open.

There was plenty of anger and much of it geared toward the commission’s executive director Tom Hutton who told KHON2 on Tuesday that he would recommend to the commission that the school should shut down.

“That guy Tom that was on the news the other day saying to shut down our school. I cried. I cried in front of my friends, my family my grandmother, my mother, my great grandmother,” said student Hinano Paia.

“(Hutton) turns around and goes to the media and says insolvency and Halau Lokahi should just turn around and close our doors, I can’t believe it and this commission should hold him accountable,” said teacher Hina Wong-Kalu. “This is inept. That is incompetence at its finest.”

Hutton pointed out that time is running out and tough decisions need to be made.

“Every day that this is prolonged is a day less that the families and the staff have to avail themselves with whatever options in the coming school year and already those limited windows are closing,” he said.

The school’s director also pointed out that she and the governing board did everything they could do to save money after enrollment dropped by 50 students which amounted to a $300,000 cut in funding.

“We can’t feed the kids. How many schools in Hawaii do you know that don’t have lunch? That’s a crime. We don’t have a counselor person, so we all counsel. We don’t have a health aide,” said director Laara Allbrett.

Allbrett says the school was also counting on getting some substantial funding from a private donor last month, but that fell through, and that’s why the school has fallen in deep debt.

But, Allbrett says, the school has a new financial plan that will be submitted to the commission by Friday. That plan will have a lot to do with what the commission decides.

“We want to give them every chance to succeed, because we do support the children and what’s going on, but any organization that doesn’t have the resources simply can’t continue. You have to be able to pay your staff and pay your rent,” said commission chair Catherine Payne.

The school will meet with the commission again on Wednesday.

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