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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 30, 2010

Shutting Hale'iwa school is shortsighted

By Malia Evans

Some things don't need replacing, closing, or consolidating, particularly a century-old rural school that has functioned as a focal point of our community and a gathering place for generations of Hale'iwa families.

The possible closing of historic Hale'iwa Elementary School would destroy a community institution that has anchored community members to place and each other since 1871.

Research confirms that schools are fundamental to the survival of rural communities. They serve as a resource for lifelong learning and a central place for the delivery of wide ranging social services. Schools also function as cultural centers for activities that are vital to community life and identity. Hale'iwa Elementary is the focal point for numerous community events; where generations come together, values are shared, lifelong friendships are developed, and community well-being is maintained.

Hale'iwa Elementary School has withstood the passage of time with resiliency and grace despite previous declines in the economy, including the closing of Waialua Sugar Co. in 1996, the largest employer in the community.

Tough times require innovative solutions, not hasty, short-term decisions that disenfranchise rural students and negatively impact educational opportunities.

Let's not be deceived that newer is better and older country schools need to be closed to accommodate new growth in central O'ahu. Equity and fairness in education are due all children, whether they attend "gleaming new schools" on the 'Ewa plain or a valued, well maintained historical school along the Waialua coastline.

The May 17 DOE-generated consolidation study underscores the overwhelming disadvantages in closing either Hale'iwa or Waialua Elementary schools and relocating sixth-grade students to Waialua High and Intermediate School. The study cites the continual struggle of Hawai'i middle schools to meet established DOE benchmarks and the potential to jeopardize successful and innovative programs (music, art, reading enrichment, academies, etc.) at all three schools if consolidation is pursued. Why subject children to diminished opportunities for educational and social success?

A 2007 study by The Rural School and Community Trust confirms school consolidation produces less fiscal benefit and greater fiscal cost than it promises. Administrative costs may decline in the short term but are rapidly replaced by other expenses, such as physical improvements, additional personnel, and specialized staff at receiving schools.

The DOE states it will save $720,000 by closing Hale'iwa Elementary, yet the creation of a middle school at Waialua High will require substantial capital improvements. Additional students at Waialua Elementary will exceed classroom availability, requiring the construction of new classrooms on an already near-capacity campus.

Our population has steadily increased since 2000 and 28 percent of our community members are 19 or younger (North Shore Chamber of Commerce). Population increase is expected with several developments in the planning stage including the construction of 350 affordable homes across the street from Hale'iwa Elementary. Where will these children be accommodated?

The $4 million saved by closing Hale'iwa is misleading as the bulk ($3.5 million) is designated for an air conditioning system. Our school classrooms contain fully functional AC units that are utilized as needed; otherwise the brisk Moa'e tradewinds refresh and cool our students and classrooms.

Unfortunately, decision makers are operating under a set of assumptions that consolidation will free up funds by the elimination of personnel and maintenance costs. Consolidation is not in the best interests of our rural students or our community, and that's not an assumption.

Let's encourage the BOE to become visionaries. Utilize this as an opportunity to create a framework that views education as a long-term investment in the future of a vibrant, healthy society. Don't shut the door on our children and our community because we live in the country.

Malia Evans is the parent of a student at Hale'iwa Elementary School. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.