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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 11, 2010

Big Isle charter school lacks funds to stay open

By Colin M. Stewart
Hawaii Tribune Herald

Funds have dried up for Waters of Life Public Charter School, and its students face an early end to instruction this year.

The state Charter School Review Panel approved Thursday a motion "strongly urging the local school board to end this school year early because of lack of funds and provide for an orderly transition of its children to other schools to complete the school year," said panel Vice Chairwoman Ruth Tschumy.

Waters of Life's school board is set to meet Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at St. Theresa Parish, 18-1355 Volcano Highway in Mountain View.

About 80 students attend the school's two campuses, in Kea'au and Mountain View.

School board members and school officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The state CSRP attempted to revoke the charter for the Mountain View-based school in June, but Judge Glenn Hara ruled in July that the panel didn't have the authority to do so.

CSRP member Nina K. Buchanan said Friday that while the panel had been given certain responsibilities by the state Board of Education, it didn't have the authority to carry out many of its duties.

"The members of the panel were appointed by the BOE, and given all these things we're to do, but then we don't have the power to do them," she said. "The panel is in a Catch-22, because the court said the most you can do is put (charter schools) on probation."

She said the panel did not appeal the judge's decision, but has helped formulate new rules giving it the teeth it needs to follow through with decisions like charter revocation. The rules are awaiting the governor's approval.

Buchanan added that should the rules be approved, they would not be retroactive, meaning that the panel "would start afresh" with Waters of Life, she said.

The panel previously asked Waters of Life to follow an 18-point probation plan, which required that the school place students in proper facilities.

School officials said last summer that they had been working with two accountants to straighten out their books, and that they had moved students from facilities previously deemed inadequate.

According to an e-mail from Tschumy, however, "The charter school administrative office's chief financial officer and (Waters of Life's) business manager agree that the school does not have the financial resources to stay open until May 26, the scheduled last day of school.

Tschumy added that while the school is closing for the year, the panel had not taken "action on closing the school, as in revocation of charter."

"From the very beginning, back when they received the charter in 2000, there were continuing problems. In fact, in their second or third year, they overspent their budget," she said.

Meanwhile, Buchanan said there will be other options for displaced students. "Right now, we already have seven letters of intent to apply for charters, and several of them are from the Big Island. So if Waters of Life must close its doors, then there'll be another community group to come forward, and another charter school will have an opportunity to succeed."