Report says plan to consolidate Moloka'i schools has downsides
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Closing Maunaloa Elementary School — the only school serving West Moloka'i — would mean its 61 students would need to travel more than 15 miles to the closest school, an undesirable scenario for the community, according to a report released yesterday.
The report, by a task force charged with examining the possibility of merging Maunalua Elementary with Kaunakakai Elementary, does not include a recommendation for or against consolidation, though it does include several arguments for keeping Maunaloa Elementary open.
A public hearing to discuss the draft task force report will be held at the school at 6 p.m. Monday.
Maunaloa Elementary principal Joe Yamamoto said the community has rallied around the school and has been supportive of keeping it open despite its small size and the state Department of Education's ongoing budget crisis.
"If you take the school from the community, it's going to take the heart from it," Yamamoto said, noting that the majority of students in the community come from economically disadvantaged families.
He also said the U.S. Postal Service has threatened to close the only post office in the area if Maunaloa closes.
"There is more to lose in this community than just a school," he said.
Citing extensive budget cuts that have led to public school furloughs, education officials last December embarked on the long and controversial process of studying consolidation of schools as a cost-saving measure.
Wailupe Valley Elementary, in East O'ahu, was closed last year after a similar public hearing process. And the state Board of Education voted in February to close Ke'anae Elementary School on Maui.
According to a recently passed piece of legislation, Senate Bill 2589, the DOE will have to offer the campus for use by a charter school, said Sandy Goya, DOE spokeswoman.
Moloka'i Complex Area Superintendent Lindsay Ball did not return calls for comment on this story.
The arguments for keeping Maunaloa open seem to outweigh the arguments to close the school, according to a report released yesterday by the task force examining school consolidation.
For instance, the report notes that Kaunakakai Elementary is more than 15 miles away from Maunaloa, and the DOE will have to incur a cost of $144,000 to bus students to that school.
Yamamoto said the idea of students traveling that distance has raised concerns in the community, especially for many of the economically disadvantaged students, who participate in afterschool programs or homework assistance. If students live too far from the school, they are less likely to participate in after-school programs because they need to catch the school bus home right away, the report says.
The report also notes that Moloka'i suffers from frequent seasonal brushfires or flooding, the main reasons for highway closures.
"Parents and community members are concerned with the impact this daily traveling would have on children," the report says.
The report also says that the savings from closing Maunaloa would be minimal. While the state will likely save more than $10 million in scheduled repair and maintenance projects for the school, operational savings are much less.
Once school employees are reassigned to other schools, it's likely the state will only save about $104,950 a year, the report said.