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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

School redistricting decision called hasty

By James Gonser
Advertiser Leeward Bureau

MAKAKILO — With state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu as well as the Board of Education officially supporting a plan to redistrict students from crowded Mauka Lani and Makakilo elementary schools to Barbers Point Elementary, options may have run out for parents opposed to the plan.

A March 13 letter from LeMahieu to Makakilo residents said, "Although the available options were seriously considered, the overcrowded facilities necessitate proceeding with the redistricting plans."

But parent Todd Jones said the decision to go ahead with the plan was so quick, education officials could not have seriously looked into the possibility of a multitrack program or building a new school.

"What proposal did they actually review and for what reasons did they determine that those would not be effective?" Jones said.

"This is the first time in my life I feel like I have no control over anything that was done."

Jones and about 10 others testified against the redistricting plan at a Board of Education meeting Feb. 15, and board members agreed to ask LeMahieu to look into the redistricting to make sure community concerns had been fully addressed.

"I'm a little ticked at the Board of Education because they sat there and listened to everything and pretended like they were wide-eyed and bushy-tailed like they had never heard this stuff before," Jones said. "They were going to help, consider and listen."

Two weeks later, on March 1, the board voted to support the Department of Education's Leeward District plans to transfer about 220 students from Makakilo and Mauka Lani schools over the next two years.

Both schools have reached or exceeded capacity.

In January, Leeward District Superintendent Hazel Sumile had announced her plan to bus Mauka Lani Elementary School students from Makakilo to Barbers Point Elementary, about six miles away.

Sumile said reassignment of students from Mauka Lani was necessary because the school is already over capacity and the crowding is expected to get worse.

Sumile's plan would send students who already ride buses to school from the Westhills area of Makakilo to Barbers Point at the beginning of the school year next fall, and students from Honokai Hale the following year.

Both Mauka Lani and Makakilo elementary schools are filled to capacity.

Barbers Point Elementary, on the other hand, lost students when the naval air station closed in 1999, and attendance has continued to decline as Navy families have moved away.

Sen. Brian Kanno, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Makakilo, Kapolei), said although the redistricting is now going to happen, LeMahieu did make two concessions to the residents — fifth-grade students and their younger siblings who have been "grandfathered" into Mauka Lani for one more year will be provided bus service, and students being sent to Barbers Point will be provided free bus service for one year.

Kanno said he would like to see implementation of the plan put off for a year to allow families to better prepare for the change and to further explore alternatives to redistricting.

District Superintendent Sumile said a lot of thought went into the redistricting plan and a decision had to be made.

"The parents really should give Barbers Point Elementary School a chance. It is an excellent school," Sumile said.

"I believe that once their children are transitioned into Barbers Point, they are going to be happy. It is very difficult for them right now. It is difficult for the parents as well as for the kids. I would just hope they would see there is a reason why it should be done."