Friday, November 27, 2015         

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Forums to weigh school closures

Parents are concerned and upset over the proposals, officials say

By Mary Vorsino


Parents and community members are expected to come out in force this week to protest proposals that would close up to four small elementary schools in east and urban Honolulu.

Consolidation hearings

Kalani complex

» When: Tomorrow, 6:30 p.m.
» Where: Kalani High School cafeteria
» School being considered for closure: Queen Liliuokalani Elementary School

Kaiser complex

» When: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.
» Where: Kaiser High School cafeteria
» Schools being considered for closure: Kamiloiki or Koko Head elementary schools

Farrington complex

» When: Thursday, 5:30 p.m.
» Where: Kalakaua Middle School cafeteria
» Schools being considered for closure: Kalihi and Puuhale elementary schools
» For more information: Go to and click on consolidation studies or call the DOE's Honolulu district office at 733-4952.
Three public hearings will be held starting tomorrow on the proposed school consolidations. The Board of Education will make the final call, as early as next month, on whether to close the schools at the end of the school year. Being considered for closure are:

» Queen Liliuokalani Elementary School, with 104 students;

» Kamiloiki Elementary, enrollment 369;

» Koko Head Elementary, which has 260 students;

» Kalihi Elementary, with 295 children;

» and Puuhale Elementary, enrollment 234.

Consolidation studies prepared by the Department of Education considered the possibility of closing either Kamiloiki or Koko Head elementary schools in Hawaii Kai, and studied closing both Kalihi and Puuhale elementary schools in urban Honolulu. Liliuokalani, on Waialae Avenue, was the only elementary school in the Kalani complex considered for closure.

Principals at the schools say parents are concerned -- and angry -- about the talk of closure.

Parents are also questioning why small schools are being targeted.

"There's a lot of emotion tied to it," said Raelene Chock, principal at Liliuokalani.

The Department of Education has pledged to consider consolidating the state's smallest schools as a way to cut costs. But so far, only Wailupe Valley in East Ho-nolulu and the one-room schoolhouse at Keanae, Maui, have closed. Spared were Haleiwa and Kaaawa elementary schools on the North Shore, Maunaloa Elementary on Molokai and Kohala Middle on the Big Island, all of which the DOE recommended against closing after backlash from parents.

The board subsequently voted against closing the campuses.

With the meetings this week, the board's attention will turn to urban schools.

In Kaimuki, parents of children at Liliuokalani Elementary are "concerned," Chock said.

The Kaimuki campus will turn 100 next year, and Chock said parents are proud of the school's history and like its tightknit atmosphere. "Parents love their own school," she said.

A consolidation study for the Kalani complex proposed sending children at Liliuokalani Elementary to Wai- alae and Liholiho elementary schools. Class sizes at Liliuokalani range from six to 22 children, and the preschool has just three kids. There are 11 teachers at the school.

The state says closing Liliuokalani Elementary would save about $370,000 a year.

At Koko Head Elementary, teachers and administrators are trying to get the word out to parents about the consolidation hearing, but are also coming up with a financial plan for next school year that includes attracting more kids from inside and outside the community.

Principal Loretta Yee said the school will emphasize enrollment increases for kindergarten.

The school wants to add about 20 kindergarten students.

Koko Head is fighting off closure in the same year that it was named one of Hawaii's Blue Ribbon schools for achieving scores in the top 10 percent for the state in reading and math.

The DOE, in a consolidation study prepared for the Kaiser complex, proposed shuttering either Koko Head or nearby Kamiloiki elementary school. Doing so would save the state between $561,000 to $678,000 a year, and could result in staff reductions.

Win Schoneman, School Community Council chairman at Kamiloiki, said the school's enrollment is "optimal" -- not too small. The elementary school is also the only one in the state, Schoneman said, with a math and science focus. The campus has its own science lab.

"Why are we even talking this talk?" he said. "The school is doing really well."

In Kalihi, the department is eyeing both Kalihi and Puuhale elementary schools for closure.

A department consolidation study said closing the two campuses would be the "least disruptive option," with Puuhale Elementary students transferred to Kalihi Kai Elementary and Kalihi Elementary students split between Kalihi Uka and Kaewai elementary schools.

With transferred students, Kalihi Kai's enrollment would increase by 228 students, to 833.

Kaewai's enrollment would increase by 144 students, to 490.

Closing Puuhale and Kalihi would save about $1.5 million a year, the report estimates.

The study notes that a majority of students at all nine Kalihi elementary schools are economically disadvantaged, but it does not say closing them would have a detrimental effect on student achievement. About 80 percent of students at Puuhale and Kalihi are low-income.

Kalihi Elementary Principal David Pila said parents are being encouraged to "voice their opinion" Thursday at a public hearing on the closure proposals. The school had workshops for parents to discuss the proposed consolidation and "help them express what they feel."

"Change is difficult in any type of situation," Pila said.

Lorelei Karasaki, principal at Puuhale Elementary, said parents at the campus are worried about sending their kids to a larger school.

"They want their children to stay here," she said.

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