POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 19, 2010
In 2008, Democrats and Republicans joined hands to support legislation to require the state to consider closing small public schools in Hawaii. The bipartisan bill noted that shuttering underutilized schools might be necessary because of scarce resources and demographic shifts.
At the time, lawmakers criticized the Board of Education and the Department of Education for keeping small schools open. The bill also warned about public and political resistance from constituents in areas where low-enrollment campuses would be targeted.
While the proposed law was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle, the DOE has been conducting school consolidation studies statewide. But the political resistance remains: The very same lawmakers critical of a lack of school closures have now launched not-in-my-backyard campaigns to save their neighborhood schools.
Their arguments flipped to contend that Hawaii should replicate successful small schools that personalize learning and engage parents. Some even point out that small schools also stimulate the neighborhood's real estate market.
I couldn't agree with them more, but the fact is small schools require more resources - unlike the unprecedented $470 million budget reduction that led to furloughs, or could have just as easily resulted in layoffs and, subsequently, larger class sizes.
Likewise, if we all agree universal preschool is valuable to prepare children for learning, our elected leaders should fund it so students will excel academically and the state will reap the benefits of lower social costs down the road. Instead, the Legislature is discontinuing junior kindergarten in 2013, making thousands of late-born children wait an extra year before starting classes.
Finally, critics claim the BOE and DOE focus only on money and ignore academic performance when deciding which schools to merge. That's false.
When the board recently closed Wailupe Valley Elementary and transferred its students to nearby Aina Haina Elementary, the decision came after careful analysis by a group of parents, school administrators and community members who unanimously concluded that the move would be in everyone's best interest, students included.
Similarly, after listening to concerns from the community and educators, the board voted not to close Kaaawa, Haleiwa and Maunaloa elementary and Kohala middle schools.
The board does not want to close schools. However, absent adequate funding from the Legislature, the board may be left with no choice.
The board committed, as lawmakers desired, to reviewing potential areas where schools could be closed and enrollment consolidated with nearby campuses to maximize taxpayer funds.
But if the intent now is to preserve and promote small schools, lawmakers must think and act beyond district lines and make the investment for every single child and school.
This means large schools such as the 2,639-student Campbell High, Farrington High (2,521), Mililani Middle (1,748), and Holomua Elementary (1,382), among others, are equally as deserving of resources to promote small learning communities and lower teacher-student ratios.
The board stands ready to work with the Legislature to support small schools and provide support to high-enrollment schools.