The point man for school closures feels the heat
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 16, 2010
YOU'D NEVER suspect from the job title—assistant superintendent for facilities and support services—that its bearer would have a target painted on his back.
Randy Moore points out genially that he really only directs Department of Education research into ways to reorganize school communities. But he realizes the target is there all the same. Even though it's the school board that makes the final call, Moore said, parents do see him as the man who raises the specter of school closures.
Moore's career would seem to have qualified him amply for this challenge. The years as a top executive for Molokai Ranch and Kaneohe Ranch gave him the property smarts, and then when he decided to become an educator, he first touched down in the DOE as a math teacher at Central Middle School. So no problem crunching numbers, obviously.
And yet nothing can prepare anyone for the angst of parents, such as those at last week's hearing on Haleiwa Elementary. Moving students from that school to Waialua has been studied as one option in a move to improve efficiency. The superintendent has not made a recommendation yet, but it's been upsetting to parents even to broach the subject.
But despite the discomfort of this particular hot seat, it's impossible to dodge the basic mission: striking a balance between the need to keep some smaller schools where they're needed most and distribute school resources more equitably. Key decisions in several cases are due in a month or two.
QUESTION: Which schools have at least begun the review process that could lead to consolidation with another campus?
ANSWER: Two have been completed, Wailupe Valley and Keanae, and in both cases the board's decision was to close them. Currently on the front burner are Kohala ... the superintendent's recommendation is to not consolidate ... Behind those are Maunaloa on Molokai—the superintendent's recommendation is in process—and then Kaaawa, and that one, the superintendent's recommendation is due also.
A year ago the board changed the rule and now provides for the superintendent to initiate the study ... Under that procedure the furthest one along is the consolidation of the schools in the Waialua complex.
Q: Are there more school complexes being studied?
A: There are two in process: Three elementary schools in the Kaiser complex—Hahaione, Kamiloiki and Koko Head. Then there's another one, the elementary schools in the Kalani complex. Those are Wilson, Kahala, Waialae, Liliuokalani, Liholiho and Waikiki. Then not yet started after that are the Kalihi elementary schools.
Q: Kalihi? I would think in those communities the population is, if anything, at least stable.
A: Well, look at Puuhale, as a for-instance. That whole Kalihi Kai area used to be inhabited, and now it's all industrial. Nobody lives in Kalihi Kai anymore. So most of the students there are on geographic exceptions from somewhere else. There are a lot of little schools, and they're fairly close together ... Interestingly, even the public housing areas, people age in place at public housing, and the school age population has gone down.
Q: What has made school consolidations so necessary at this point?
A: We have more schools—up until two years ago (when two were closed)—than ever before, yet no increase in overall enrollment. But we've needed to build schools where there were students: West Hawaii, Central Maui, Central Oahu, Leeward Oahu. (Enrollment) has declined in the rural areas, in Central and East Honolulu, declined in Windward, declined in East Hawaii, declined in Kohala, declined in East Maui, declined in most of Kauai outside of Lihue.
Q: What's the connection between school consolidations and the push to equalize resources?
A: The weighted student formula was introduced in Act 51 in 2004 and implemented starting in 2006. It was not until then that there was much understanding or appreciation of how much more it costs per student to operate a small school than a big school. Significant differences. So there was additional impetus: Money's supposed to go out, money follows the student. Before Act 51, positions were allocated to the schools ... If we're trying to provide equitable services across the system, that old process didn't accomplish it. But until we started looking at the dollars that went to the schools instead of the positions, we didn't really have an appreciation for how unbalanced the old system was. So the little light comes on: These little schools are really expensive to operate. Is that equitable to the students in the big schools?
Q: What drives up the cost so much?
A: Teacher ratio is fairly constant across the size spectrum of schools. If you look at the number of noninstructional staff, at the really big schools, it was like 50 students per staff. At the really dinky schools it was five. So the additional cost of a small school was not because classes were little, it was mostly because of this system of allocating positions, every school gets sort of one of everything.
Q: Did you realize what tough issues would confront you when you took this job?
A: I was here in the facilities office before all this started. I wasn't brought in for this.
Q: You were brought in for sunshine and happiness, right? Making facilities better. And now?
A: Now I wear the blackest hat in the department.