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Year could be school’s last

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Julie Uyeno-Pidot, arriving at Queen Liliuokalani Elementary School yesterday to pick up her 5-year-old son, said she enrolled her child in the Kaimuki school to receive speech therapy. He has made significant progress in the school's small classes, she said.

Another school consolidation fight is brewing — this time at Queen Liliuokalani Elementary School in Kaimuki.

Parents at the tiny campus, which has 11 teachers and about 130 children in kindergarten through fifth grade, were notified recently that the school might be closed and its students split between Liholiho Elementary and Wai’alae School.

The Board of Education is expected to vote as soon as November on the school’s fate, following a public hearing, and the campus could be closed at the end of this school year.

Closing the school would save the state about $370,000, according to a draft consolidation study that looked at the six elementary schools in the Kalani High School complex.

Liliuokalani parents are organizing to fight the possible closure, saying thrusting their children into larger schools would be detrimental.

They could have a tough fight ahead.

Randy Moore, assistant superintendent of the office of school facilities and support services, said school consolidations are always touchy but need to be considered in tough financial times.

"It’s never easy," he said. "I’d feel very badly if people said, ‘Yeah, close it. We don’t need this place.’ "

Liliuokalani parents say their kids thrive in the small classrooms and tightknit environment at Liliuokalani.

"It’s a very nurturing environment," said Julie Uyeno-Pidot, whose 5-year-old son, Akira, attends the school.

Uyeno-Pidot said Akira enrolled at Liliuokalani in preschool because he needed speech therapy. "When he got there the class size was small and the teacher was so experienced," she said yesterday. "He made improvements very, very quickly."

The state Department of Education has been considering schools statewide for consolidation. So far, Wailupe Elementary School in East Honolulu and the one-room school in Keanae, Maui, have been closed.

The Board of Education unanimously voted last week not to consolidate Kohala Middle School with Kohala High and Elementary schools on the Big Island, after community members made a big push to keep the 127-student campus open.

The board has not decided whether to close Haleiwa and Kaaawa elementary schools, both of which interim Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi has recommended against shuttering. Consolidation studies are being finalized for the Kalani and Kaiser complexes, where several elementary schools are under capacity.

In the Kalani complex, where Liliuokalani is situated, five schools have enrollments below capacity. Only one school is above capacity: Wilson Elementary School, which has an enrollment of 550 students (15 students above capacity).

Liliuokalani does not have the largest disparity between its enrollment and capacity, but it is the smallest school in the complex.

Wai’alae School, a charter school, is 210 students under capacity, and Kahala Elementary School is 165 students under capacity.

A draft consolidation study for the Kaiser complex weighed the pros and cons of closing Koko Head, Kamiloiki or Hahaione elementary schools. Officials have not decided which school, if any, the department will recommend be closed.

Later this year the Farrington High complex will also be studied for possible consolidations.

As parents picked up their children at Liliuokalani Elementary yesterday, there were plenty of glum faces when the threat of closure was raised.

Jan Bullock, parent of a Liliuokalani first-grader, said parents are "pretty depressed."

The school, dedicated in 1912 by the deposed queen herself, is celebrating its 99th anniversary this year, and the threat of closure has put something of a damper on those festivities.

"We all just love this school," she said. "Next year will make 100 years. There’s a lot of history in this place."

Chris Chan, whose 6-year-old son, Vincent, attends Liliuokalani, said he is crossing his fingers that the school remains open. "All the parents don’t want the school to close," he said.


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