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Maunaloa’s Last Lifeline

Community fights school consolidation

Having faced a stream of adversity the past couple years, Maunaloa community members are digging in their heels to try to save their most important remaining asset – their school.

In lieu of shutting down Maunaloa Elementary School entirely, Department of Education Interim Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi recommended the school’s administration be consolidated with Kaunakakai School in an effort to cut down Hawaii’s education budget. Last year, Maunaloa was identified by the state as one of four schools eligible for consolidation and is currently being evaluated by the Board of Education (BOE).

Although there was hope that a decision from the BOE would be presented at last Thursday’s meeting at Molokai High School, it was deferred until the board’s Sept. 16 meeting on Maui. The board – having not visited Molokai in two years – held one of its regular meetings on island last week to address community concerns and delays with the issue.

Board member Mary Cochran expressed her frustration with the hold-up, saying Maunaloa has “slipped through the cracks” due to the state Department of Education’s preoccupation with other matters. Matayoshi’s recommendation is set to be thoroughly reviewed on Aug. 9 by the BOE’s Committee on Administrative Services, which will then submit its proposal to the full board.

Money Woes
In her recommendation, Matayoshi suggested Maunaloa School remain open under the instruction of Kaunakakai Principal Janice Espiritu. This means the school would eliminate several positions including the principal, student services coordinator, School Administrative Services Assistant (SASA) and school health aide, while increasing the clerical position from half time to full time. These adjustments, Matayoshi noted, would amount to $270,000 in savings per year.

“Maunaloa has already lost 16 certified positions,” said Maunaloa Principal Joe Yamamoto, who has been with the school for 11 years. “It can’t afford to lose any more.”

In addition, the west end school has substantial damage to its roof which will need repairs in the coming year. If the cost of the repairs reaches upward of $1 million, Matayoshi suggests a feasibility study should be done to determine whether the school be closed and all 68 students shifted to Kaunakakai.

“It sounds like we’re headed for a closure,” Yamamoto said. “The decision is money-driven.”

Lengthy Discussion
The process began in October 2009 when a 10-member consolidation task force was formed to gather facts and testimony, and file a recommendation. In May, the task force voted unanimously to advocate against consolidation of Maunaloa School. Nearly a month later, Complex Area Superintendent Lindsay Ball delivered his recommendation, also in support of preserving the school, but consolidating its administration.
 
“To truly understand, you need to see the school with the community,” Ball said at last week’s meeting. “The school is the community.”

A Heated Issue

The issue has invoked emotional debate among Maunaloa community members who would prefer to see their school remain open.

“We shouldn’t be shot in the knees” said Dart Bicoy. “We’re already on our knees.” Bicoy has four granddaughters currently attending Maunaloa School.

While parents pleaded, others noted the logistics. For the past three consecutive years, Maunaloa has exceeded benchmarks in the Hawaii State Assessment, thanks to small classroom sizes and personalized learning. Many can’t understand why the state would close a school that is performing well academically.

“Whatever formula they’re using should be bottled up and passed along to the public school system,” said resident Wilma Noelani Joy.

“Is academic achievement being considered at all?” asked Bicoy. “Maunaloa should be the model for other schools.”

Community members recognize it’s not just Maunaloa that would be affected, but the whole island.

“I come from the east end, not Maunaloa,” said Judy Caparida. “But our island is not divided by water. What hurts on the west, hurts on the east. We’re all hurting.”

Espiritu testified saying it would not be in the best interest of the students to downsize, even in spite of economic savings.

“Schools need a full-time principal to provide quality service and leadership at the school site,” said Espiritu, who would oversee both schools if the state consolidates Maunaloa’s administration. “I, too, have a family and with my already busy schedule, it will only add to more time being away from them.” 

Concerned parent Christine Grik said she couldn’t imagine putting her five-year-old daughter on a bus to a school nearly 18 miles away from home.

“Please keep the school open,” she urged. “Thanks to Maunaloa, my daughter reads me bedtime stories at night. What five-year-old can do that?”

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