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BOE OKs review of charter panel

Updated: 
September 7, 2016 - 12:05am

HILO — The State Public Charter School Commission will undergo a performance review following a “pattern of well-founded complaints” from multiple charter school leaders, the state Board of Education decided at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

That decision came after a BOE committee spent seven months determining if a review was necessary. The charter commission also conducted its own self-review this summer, in which it concluded it was meeting most of its objectives and goals.

Despite the commission’s self-assessment, a review is still needed, the BOE committee said in meeting materials, because that self-evaluation did not “acknowledge or identify the root causes of the negative relationship between the commission and charter schools.”

The BOE committee is “primarily concerned with why there are consistently similar complaints from a large number of charter school leaders and why there is a seeming disconnect between the perceptions of these leaders and those of the commission,” meeting materials said.

Details about complaints were not shared with the public. However, at least two Big Island charter schools say they’ve experienced problems with the commission.

Leaders from Ka‘u Learning Academy, a second-year Naalehu charter school, alleged to the Tribune-Herald earlier this summer that commission staff did not return their phone calls or provide enough clarification after Ka‘u received a deficiency notice for reportedly missing payroll deadlines. Commission staff have also claimed Ka‘u turned down requests for help with finances and payroll problems.

Steve Hirakami, director of Pahoa-based Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences, told the Tribune-Herald last week he’s experienced a “lack of communication” with the commission and believes it lacks understanding about the history of charter schools.

“Sixteen of the original leaders are still at the schools out of 34 (schools total),” Hirakami said. “So that gives you a sense that there are (years) of experience out there, but nobody asks us. They all talk down to us, and it makes it really hard that way.

“I hope would hope a review would lead to better communication,” he added. “We should all be sitting on the same side of the fence — they don’t have to be our friend, but at least they can support charter schools.”

The commission was created in 2012 as part of a statewide charter school system overhaul aimed at creating a more “solid governance structure … with clear lines of authority and accountability,” according to the act which established the commission.

The commission maintains a performance contract with each school and decides whether to approve new charter applicants.

The BOE review will determine if the commission “meets statutory requirements and national principles for quality charter authorizing,” according to meeting materials. It is slated to wrap up in February.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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