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Insolvent school’s charter sized up for revocation

  • BRUCE ASATO / JULY 28
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The commission overseeing public charter schools moved Thursday to begin shutting down the financially strapped Halau Lokahi Public Charter School Thursday, ending a months-long struggle to keep the Hawaiian-focused school afloat.

The nine-member Charter School Commission voted 6-2 to issue a notice of revocation to the Kalihi school, representing the first step toward closing the school. The school will have a 30-day window to appeal. If upheld, it would be the first time a Hawaii charter has been revoked.

Tom Hutton, the commission’s executive director, said staff will immediately begin reaching out to parents of the school’s 114 students in kindergarten through high school to help find alternatives. 

Students were scheduled to return from winter break Tuesday.

The commission had asked Halau Lokahi’s governing board to come up with a financial sustainability plan over winter break before deciding whether to release another round of per-pupil funds to the school.

Elizabeth Blake, a school improvement consultant who was named acting director of the school, presented a plan to bring on a mainland curriculum provider to deliver instruction online for secondary students, taught by certified K12 Inc. teachers.

Under that plan, the company, K12 Inc., also would provide $150,000 to help fund operations through the end of the school year — if a proposed memorandum of understanding was signed to pay the company a percentage of future revenues for the remaining 2.5 years of Halau Lokahi’s charter contract.

"Give us a chance to go through this semester and show you that we will turn this school around," Blake told the commission. "I feel like were being nailed to the wall for other past practices."

The school had run out of money before the end of the last school year, and stopped paying its rent and staff. It ended that year with a $502,000 debt. The school has about $90,000 in estimated outstanding debts.

In June, the commission required the school to replace its governing board and longtime director and founder, Laara Allbrett, and come up with a financial plan that would carry it through the school year, before they allowed it to reopen. But the campus again faced a shortfall, as enrollment fell below projections.

Some commission members viewed the proposed online component with K12 Inc. as too big of a shift from Halau Lokahi’s approved academic plan.

Hutton called the plan a risky undertaking, even for a school that wasn’t insolvent.

"This is a very different way of doing education in this school. … This discussion started two days ago, and school starts next week. That is, from our standpoint, pretty risky when you’re talking about kids," he said. "This would be a big challenge for a very highly functioning school. This school is not a highly functioning school. This is a severely challenged school on all levels and it’s being asked to do a very, very ambitious change in how it does everything."

Amid the financial scrutiny, the school has come under investigation by the state Attorney General’s office, which executed a search warrant at the school in November, seizing financial and personnel records as well as computers. Soon after, school co-director Callei Allbrett, Laara Albrett’s daughter, was put on administrative leave. 

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