Maui Weekly Coverage of November Education Meeting

Island Keiki in a School Daze

By: Trisha Smith
Published Nov. 26, 2009

Kihei Community Association meeting features Kihei High School update and passionate panel discussion between school personnel and parents regarding the governor’s recent “Furlough Fridays” proposal. “We want to be a real partner in education…”

Hawai‘i’s island communities have faced many challenges battling economic woes, and now our public school system has received national attention, with statistics shining a critical spotlight on education in paradise.

Emotions ran high in South Maui recently as numerous concerned parents, teachers and residents met to discuss these issues during a Kihei Community Association (KCA) meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The contentious “Furlough Fridays” topic was on everyone’s mind as Gov. Linda Lingle recently revealed a new proposal that would bring her, the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association (HSTA) and the Department of Education (DOE) back to the bargaining table to renegotiate contracts. She now supports using the state’s rainy day fund—seeking $50 million of it—to restore instructional days, and doing away with “Furlough Fridays” by the beginning of 2011.

She suggests using noninstructional days as unpaid time off for teachers instead of using classroom days. This will not effect the seven Fridays that kids will miss this school year.

The community group also revealed their board of directors for 2010 (see “About KCA” at www.gokihei.org) and Group 70 International representatives from O‘ahu gave an update regarding Kihei High School.

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Preparation Notice for the proposed school was released on Sunday, Nov. 8, and is available online for commentary through Tuesday, Dec. 8. (Download “Hot Topic” online at www.gokihei.org.)

Major themes for the new school include: enhancing Kihei pride through athletic events; a health and wellness center; school acting as a center of the community; and focusing on developing a science and technology center.

A distinguished guest panel discussed “Furlough Fridays” and other matters conflicting local schools. The panelists included Maui Board of Education Representative Mary Cochran, state DOE Superintendent Bruce Anderson, HSTA Negotiator and Special Education Teacher Barry Wurst, state Sen. Roz Baker, parents and educational advocates.

Cochran applauded Kihei for being “one of the most articulate and knowledgeable communities.” She said she was saddened by the negative attention our state’s furloughs received nationally, and hopes for a remedy by the new year. “Let’s put the kibosh on furloughs,” she said.

Wurst said everyone worked hard to trim down the budget, but instructional time had to be impacted. “It was a very tough decision,” he added.

An alternative is layoffs, which would increase class sizes and remove teachers with the lowest seniority. Wurst stressed his frustrations, as new teachers bring a great energy and innovations to classrooms.

“Now, thanks to the recent public outcry, we are going to see something happen,” he said regarding furloughs. “I applaud everyone for taking a stand.”

Sen. Baker said she’s looking for ways to restore instructional days, but the state should be cautious of utilizing funds, like the rainy day or hurricane relief fund.

She said the state Legislature would have a special session “in the not-too-distant future” to work on resolutions. She also wants to make sure other aspects, such as cafeterias and buses—not just the teachers— are paid close attention as well, making for an all-around “rich educational experience.”

“Hopefully, we can come out as a stronger educational system,” said Sen. Baker.

Gene Zarro from Kihei Charter School commented on how many don’t realize the low pay our teachers receive when factoring in the cost of living in Hawai‘i, and that trading instructional time for planning time is not the solution.

“There has to be a better solution than raiding a finite pot of money for short-term success,” he said.

Frustrated Kamali‘i Elementary School parent Yvonne Biegel provided numerous passionate statements regarding the economic “perfect storm” hitting education head on. “Will our children sink or swim?” she asked, and remarked on Hawai‘i’s lack of music, art and physical education teachers. “How is the money being spent differently now?” she said. “Where does it all go?”

She suggested decentralizing DOE and developing a local school board. “Let’s get involved,” she said.

Later, Cochran rebutted that a local school board isn’t going to work and mentioned how school boards on the Mainland have been consolidating. Cochran stressed if Biegel and others desire to pursue this idea, they should “be prepared to pay for it.”

“We want to be a real partner in education with our children,” Biegel said.

Zarro recommended a “pilot program” to test the waters of a localized board, but warned of its challenges.

“With all due respect, do your jobs and get our kids back in school,” Biegel said to the officials on the panel—a statement that received a standing ovation and applause.

Bridget Bunting, president of Kihei Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA), was “on the same page” with Biegel, pushing for parental and community involvement.

Bunting and the PTA took matters into their own hands and have been working diligently to find a way to keep keiki in the classroom during furloughs.

And, they have.

On the Nov. 20 “Furlough Friday,” Kihei Elementary was open, as nearly a dozen volunteers arrived to instruct keiki who came to school. The school will be under the PTA’s management on future “Furlough Fridays,” and staffed by citizen volunteers. Bunting hopes to bring the field trips to the kids, partnering with groups like the Maui Ocean Center and Pacific Whale Foundation to provide an extension of education our keiki are missing out on with less school days.

Visit www.wecandoithawaii.org for more information.

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About Andrew

a KCA Board Member and volunteer who enjoys life in South Maui.

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