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Wednesday, August 20, 2014         

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Charter school director is asked to leave

By Susan Essoyan

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Maunalei Love is stepping down today as executive director of the Charter School Administrative Office under pressure from a state panel, after serving longer than anyone else in that position.

"The Charter School Review Panel asked for and accepted my resignation as the Charter School Administrative Office executive director after disagreement over many months with regards to job scope and performance," Love wrote in an e-mail to charter schools. "I would like to offer my sincere gratitude for the opportunity to have served Hawaii's charter school system."

Love held the job for 3 1/2 years altogether, in two separate stints, starting as interim executive director. She was appointed executive director in November 2008. The Charter School Review Panel asked for her resignation last week.

"This is definitely in the best interest of the charter schools," Nina Buchanan, the panel's vice chairwoman, said yesterday. "I know the panel plans to move ahead as quickly as possible to appoint an interim executive director and to do a search as soon as possible. We feel very optimistic that we will find someone excellent."

Since 2004 five people have served as executive director of the office, some staying on the job for just a matter of months. The Charter School Administrative Office provides support and guidance to Hawaii's 31 public charter schools, a diverse lot ranging from small Hawaiian-focused campuses to large online academies. About 5 percent of the state's public-school students are in charter schools. The position pays about $90,000 a year.

"It's a really hard job," said John Thatcher, principal of Connections Public Charter School in Hilo. "You've got to answer to so many people. I think it's a job that just burns people out or they get fired."

Along with juggling the needs of charter schools and collecting data from them, the office also answers to the Charter School Review Panel, which grants and revokes charters, and to the Legislature. Charter schools are publicly funded, but they are overseen by their own local school boards and are exempt from many state regulations. Legislators recently have been pressuring charter schools to be more accountable for their use of taxpayer money.

"There are quite a few people who think that the review panel is starting to micromanage," Thatcher said. "That's probably one of Maunalei's problems. She really believes strongly that the charter schools need to be autonomous and other entities should not be interfering with their autonomy."

Jim Shon, executive director of the charter school office from 2004 to 2006, said a shortage of funds at charter schools makes it tough for them to keep up with administrative requirements, and the charter school office has little leverage over them.

"Quite rightly, accountability and documentation are what we expect of public agencies and public schools," Shon said. "But because of the funding situation, it has been almost impossible for charters to have a full complement of administrative support, the guys who generate the data and the reports and the audits. Now the Legislature is getting restless. And you have the charters grumbling about the office constantly asking them for information."

"The system is kind of imploding on itself," said Shon, who wrote a book about Hawaii's charter school system.

Love helped launch the Hawaii Charter Schools Network and was administrator of Hakipuu Learning Center in Kaneohe from 2001 to 2004.

"Maunalei has been a huge supporter of charter schools, an advocate for charter schools and one of the original founders of the charter school movement," said Mark Christiano, executive director of Kihei Charter School. "We all wish her the best of luck."






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