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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 16, 2003

Lab School's future unclear once more

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

The highly regarded Lab School faces uncertainty again.

The unintended release of a memo from the chancellor of the University of Hawai'i-Manoa to the Board of Regents indicates that UH is reassessing its relationship with the school and might extend its research agreement for just one more year.

The news came as a blow for a school that has achieved some measure of financial stability since 2001 after struggling for several years because of state fiscal woes.

Ending the relationship with UH "would pretty much spell the end of the Lab School," said Charles Khim, who chairs the school's board.

For its 51-year history the Lab School has been just that — a research laboratory for the UH College of Education for the development of innovative curriculum. The school has also been hailed for its academics, with its students achieving some of the highest scores in the state on standardized tests. The school has 361 students in grades K-12.

The school's attainment of charter school status two years ago was hailed as an advantage that would cement its ties with the state and strengthen its precarious financial situation. But now that status appears to be creating new issues centered on land and money.

The school contracts with UH for its operation.

Action on the lease agreement between UH and the Lab School — now known as The Education Laboratory — was deferred by the UH Board of Regents yesterday, giving the Manoa campus a month to work out a new agreement before the contract expires June 30.

"It was placed on the public agenda in error," said Manoa campus spokesman Jim Manke. "The regents asked the chancellor to prepare a discussion paper. The intent was to send it to the Regents for discussion prior to reaching some decisions."

Manke said Manoa Chancellor Peter Englert and those involved with the Lab School, including College of Education Dean Randy Hitz, will take up the issue. The Board of Regents is trying to work out what the proper relationship is with a charter school, Hitz said.

"The charter school doesn't really have employees," Hitz said. "The employees are all university employees, so that's an issue. And the other issue is space. Can the charter school continue to use the space without any charge?

"It's all about property," Hitz said. "Can the university afford to give up that much space without being compensated for it?"

For years, university officials have discussed moving the school off the Manoa campus, where land is at a premium.

Hitz said the proposal was "mostly just to keep the Lab School in place for another year and then work out the details of the relationship."

"This gives us an opportunity to meet with the chancellor and find out what his concerns are and gives us an opportunity to work something out," said Donald Young, director of the Curriculum Research and Development Group in the College of Education that operates the Lab School.

In the memo, Englert proposed that the agreement with the Lab School be extended just one more year and recommended the administration of the school be returned to the charter school board.

"The local school board can negotiate its own agreement with the University of Hawai'i if it desires to occupy the space it currently occupies," the memo said. "And it can enter into an agreement with UH-Manoa to continue to work with the College of Education for research and curriculum development."

However, Englert said he cannot recommend that the College of Education continue to run the Lab School "in the face of all the uncertain fiscal and legal commitments that it entails."

Englert's memo said the Lab School created a deficit of $421,898 for the university — a figure that Young disputes. Khim said it would be a "travesty" to lose the Lab School as it's configured and that UH makes money from the school.

"They're going to lose $10 million a year if they cancel this agreement," Khim said. "It's a little less than $9 million in research grants and about $1.4 million a year in direct payments to the College of Education from the Lab School (with money from the Department of Education and donations.)"

Hitz, too, said the school is an "essential component" of the College of Education.

"We rely on it for a great deal of the research we do, and because of it we bring in $6 (million) to $8 million a year (in research money.)

"It's not just the funding, but also the services and products produced because of the Lab School facilities," said Hitz. "It's a contribution to the knowledge base we make, like any other laboratory — just doing different research. We've had external studies to see if there are ways to do the same kind of research in public schools, and the answer is no. It would be much more complicated and much more expensive."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.