Thursday, February 1, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, February 1, 2001

School transfers rile Makakilo

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

Some Makakilo parents reacted with resignation, others with anger, when they learned yesterday their children will be moved to another school six miles away.

Following two months of public meetings to resolve the crowding at Mauka Lani and Makakilo elementary schools, students were sent home with a message yesterday announcing that, over the next two years, about 220 of them will have to take the bus to the nearly empty Barbers Point Elementary in Kalaeloa.

Parent Todd Jones, whose daughter is a third-grader at Mauka Lani, described the decision as "crazy."

"We have a really good, tight-knit community and the people living closest to the school are being moved out," he said.

Mauka Lani Parent-Teacher Association President Keahi Teson mourned the impending breakup of the school’s "family."

"On one hand I understand that it had to be done and something had to be decided right away," Teson said. "But on the other hand, I wish they’d given us more time to talk about it or come up with other solutions."

With its 17 portable classrooms, Mauka Lani can take 660 students. But it already has 690 and that number is expected to grow with more homes planned in the area. Makakilo Elementary also has reached its capacity of 600 students.

Redrawing school district boundaries was one option considered. Others included multi-tracking and building a new school.

Such a large redistricting is unusual, said Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen. But the ebb and growth of Hawaii’s communities creates an ongoing need for the department to address the cramped schools in growing communities such as Makakilo and Mililani and the shrinking enrollments in other areas such as East Honolulu.

Barbers Point has been drained of students since the naval air station closed in 1999. Built for 790 students, the school has an enrollment of 215 this year. The department saw the underutilized campus as a ready solution for the crowding in Makakilo.

But Sen. Brian Kanno said it’s just a Band-Aid solution. Kanno lives in one of the areas affected by the move, which means his children would attend Barbers Point when they reach school age.

Public meetings

Informational meetings to discuss the changes:

Tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. at the Mauka Lani Elementary cafeteria.

Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Makakilo Elementary library.

Feb. 22 at 2:15 p.m. at the Barbers Point Elementary library.

"I think it’s unfortunate that we’re caught in this situation where we have to impose a change like this, which is possibly very disruptive for the children and families," said Kanno, D-20th (
Ewa Beach, Makakilo, Kapolei).

Honokai Hale, a subdivision between Makakilo and Ko Olina, is familiar with such moves, said Kuulei Jolonino, president of the Honokai Hale Community Association. She said Honokai Hale students have been moved from Makakilo Elementary to Mauka Lani, Barbers Point, back to Makakilo and now back to Barbers Point.

"We always get moved because we’re way out in the middle of nowhere," she said.

Kanno has set up a committee to discuss long-term plans for the community. He hopes better planning can avoid crisis situations such as the one in Makakilo. He’s also requesting money this session to build a third elementary school in Makakilo and an additional building at Mauka Lani.

Kanno also has introduced a bill that would require developers in an area with crowded schools to work with principals to avoid that kind of situation.

Meanwhile, Makakilo parents worried about their school communities, the impending changes in their daily routines and the effects on their children.

"My daughter will be upset," said Westhills resident Barry Magaoay, whose daughter is in the second grade at Mauka Lani. "But children are resilient. I think it depends a lot on how the parents react; we can soften it for them."

For Jones, the decision to move the students was made even more difficult when he learned that the state is considering a site near Barbers Point Elementary for a juvenile detention center for patients being treated for having sexual relations with family members.

"It’s utter insanity to consider building something like that near an elementary school," he said. He’s already considering a move to a private school or another neighborhood.

Meanwhile, department staff are reassuring parents that Barbers Point is a good school, with good test scores. Knudsen said there will be some upgrades, including the installation of air conditioning. A security fence also is being built.

And at least one Mauka Lani parent yesterday said he might consider moving his daughter to Barbers Point even though she does not have to go.

Bill Parrish said he likes the sound of the school’s programs, including the Challenger Space Center, a high-tech facility that serves students from around the state.

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