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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 11, 2001

Some Makakilo students to switch schools

By James Gonser
Advertiser Leeward Bureau

KAPOLEI — A last-ditch effort in the Legislature to postpone the mandatory move of some students from Mauka Lani Elementary to Barbers Point Elementary failed when the bill died in the House this session.

The move will go ahead as planned, according to Sen. Brian Kanno.

Up to 85 students who attend popular Mauka Lani in Makakilo will be bused about six miles away to Barbers Point under a redistricting plan that begins with the start of the school year July 25.

Senate Bill 1567 also would have "grandfathered" current Makakilo homeowners into the Mauka Lani school district permanently and appropriated money for a security guard to protect students at isolated Barbers Point Elementary.

Kanno, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Makakilo, Kapolei) said he introduced the bill to delay redistricting for a year to allow families to better prepare for the change and to further explore alternatives.

"We never said the bill was the cure-all, but something to allow us more time," Kanno said. "(Mauka Lani) opposed the bill because they were worried it would be a delay for a year and there would be no relief from classes filled with 40 students."

In January, Leeward District Superintendent Hazel Sumile announced the redistricting plan, saying it is necessary because Mauka Lani is already over capacity and the situation is expected to worsen.

Students who already ride buses to Mauka Lani from the Westhills area of Makakilo will change schools this year, and students from Honokai Hale who attend Makakilo Elementary will move to Barbers Point Elementary the following year, according to the Department of Education plan. About 220 students will be affected.

Both Mauka Lani and Makakilo elementary schools are over capacity, but Barbers Point, whose enrollment has dropped since the naval air station there closed in 1999, is greatly underutilized.

Kanno lives with his family in the Westhills area but does not have school-age children.

Rep. Mark Moses said he opposed the bill because there is nothing substantial that could be done in one year to alleviate the crowding.

"I didn't think it was going to help the problem," said Moses, R-42nd (Kapolei, 'Ewa Village, Village Park). "The bill would be temporary for one year, and I couldn't see anything we could do in that one year for the long run. It would maybe get up people's hopes up for a year and then they would have to do it anyway."

Moses said even if a site for a new school was found in Makakilo or if the DOE supported plans for a new building at Mauka Lani to accommodate more students, either would still take more than a year to complete. Even multitracking, which has been suggested as a way to keep students in their neighborhood school, would take several years to implement, Moses said.

Kanno said postponing the redistricting would have given parents some leverage during discussions with the DOE.

Dozens of parents testified against the plan at public hearings and at a Feb. 15 Board of Education meeting, but both Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu and the Board of Education subsequently endorsed the redistricting plan.

Parent Todd Jones, whose daughter will have to change schools, said the redistricting is not fair to Makakilo residents and was not handled properly.

"I never ever had a problem with Barbers Point Elementary per se," Jones said. "But it is not my neighborhood school. My problem is the process that determines who goes where, when and why. The (Board of Education) needs to be more responsive to the people they serve. They didn't do a damn thing after we talked to them" about exploring other options.

Jones has applied for a district exemption for his daughter to continue attending Mauka Lani and is considering a private school if that request is denied.

Meanwhile, Claudia Nakachi, principal at Barbers Point, said the school is holding orientation sessions, giving campus tours and inviting Mauka Lani parents to an art fair next week to help with the transition.

"They need to see the teachers and the students, not just the buildings, to interact to see what the school is all about," Nakachi said. "We are approaching this whole thing with a positive attitude."