A compromise is worthwhile only if it offers both sides of an argument at least partial satisfaction of their desires. Given the stated goals of the state’s school consolidation initiatives — making more efficient use of limited taxpayer funds — it’s not yet clear that a proposal to redraw school boundaries can achieve that.
The idea of reshuffling which students should attend which schools has been floated as a way to avoid the pain of school closure in East Oahu communities, where student enrollment has declined as young families increasingly moved westward.
Enrollments at Kamiloiki and Koko Head elementary schools fall the furthest below capacity in their district of four campuses; one or the other is being eyed for closure. Under a proposal being considered by the state Department of Education, about 150 students from Aina Haina Elementary, which is near capacity, would be redirected to the smaller schools.
This plan has the tentative backing of schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, but much of the support is based on expectations that are not yet borne out. For example, she said, enrollments should increase when the schools phase in a popular International Baccalaureate program, but this remains to be seen. The reduction at Aina Haina will allow the school to cancel plans for purchasing portable buildings, a one-time $600,000 savings; whether that will offset long-term costs has to be analyzed.
"Depending on how the attendance areas are adjusted, student travel time may be reduced," Matayoshi said in a letter to the school board.
But parental reactions are still far from certain, even though the changes will affect only new students, not those currently assigned to Aina Haina.
Meanwhile, the whole purpose of this exercise is to find ways to make the use of school facilities more equitable to students around the state and to cut the cost of maintaining schools with low enrollment. The proposal won’t make sense until it’s demonstrated that this achieves efficiencies the state needs to deal with its current budget crisis.
Of course, parents of the affected schools, particularly those that are high achievers in test scores, will say that smaller schools can produce better results. While that’s true, the DOE needs to consider equity across the statewide system. Other schools, for example, have enrollments so far over capacity that students are on multitrack schedules, making it difficult to fit in enough classroom time. The DOE has a duty to free up resources to help all its students.
To its credit, the DOE has made a yeoman’s effort to approach the difficult issue of school consolidation in a studious way, but so far has only managed to close two schools statewide. Understandably, communities share close, emotional bonds with their schools, so there’s been considerable pushback. Certainly, school closure is not the right answer in every case.
But it’s an option that must be employed in some instances as a matter of good stewardship. Simply redrawing district lines may offer a temporary truce and hold out the possibility of future growth. Meanwhile, however, there are immediate fiscal problems and crucial classroom needs now, and it’s hard to see how this proposal helps the state confront them.