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Board spares school in Kohala from closing

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Kohala Middle School turned 84 this year, and — after some trepidation about its future — will make it to 85.

The Department of Education was considering closing the school under a cost-saving proposal that would have sent its sixth- through eighth-graders to Kohala High or an elementary school.

But the Board of Education voted 8-0 last night to keep the Big Island middle school open on the recommendation of interim Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi and a board committee.

Consolidating the school would have required major capital improvements at the high and elementary schools, and Matayoshi said it is unlikely funds for the scope of work would come through any time soon.

On the other hand, the state projected it would save about $1.2 million per year by consolidating Kohala Middle School, essentially creating a kindergarten through 12th-grade complex because the high and elementary schools are adjacent to each other.

The full board took up the issue last night at a meeting at Waiakea High School in Hilo.

Janette Snelling, Kohala Middle principal, said the community is overjoyed that their school was saved. Kohala residents came out in force to oppose the consolidation, first proposed about a year ago.

A group of residents made the two-hour drive to Hilo yesterday to attend the meeting and dozens more submitted written testimony.

Kohala Middle, which opened in 1926 and serves a community of about 6,000 people, has 196 students and 15 teachers.

Snelling said as the department is considering other consolidations in a bid to save money, it should also improve the review process.

She said the consolidation proposal in Kohala was "messy" and took up a "good third" of her energy last school year.

"It’s been a really rough ride for us," she said, adding that the process needs to be more "clear and defined."

"There really is a need to revisit this whole consolidation process in terms of clarity, transparency and honest effort to take community input," she said.

The department is considering closing Kaaawa and Haleiwa elementary schools on Oahu and Maunaloa Elementary on Molokai, and is preparing consolidation studies for elementary schools in Hawaii Kai and in the Kalani complex.

So far, the board has closed two schools: Wailupe Valley in East Honolulu and the one-room school at Keanae, Maui.

A draft consolidation study for elementary schools in the Kalani complex identifies Liliuokalani Elementary School as a viable candidate for closure.

The school has an enrollment of 127 students, 115 students below its capacity. Closing the school would save the state about $370,000 a year.

A public hearing on the issue will probably be held in October, and a decision made as early as November.

Board Chairman Garrett Toguchi said consolidation is never easy, but must be considered in tough fiscal times.

"It’s not an arbitrary decision," he said. "We’re affecting a sizable number of families and staff."

Karen Knudsen, board second vice chairwoman, said that when consolidating schools it is vital to put things in perspective. "Sometimes the savings is not great," she said. "We just want to be careful."


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