Kona Pacific fights back against commission’s findings

  • A sign hangs at the entrance of Kona Pacific Public Charter School. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Kona Pacific Public Charter School is located above Kona Community Hospital. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Kona Pacific Public Charter School is located above Kona Community Hospital. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — A Kealakekua charter school is demanding the state commission that oversees charter schools rescind a vote kicking off a process that could close the school.

The governing board for Kona Pacific Public Charter School is alleging the State Public Charter School Commission violated the law, including the state’s Sunshine Law, in taking the action at a meeting in Honolulu on March 14.

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The Big Island charter school’s board in a message posted online said the school, meanwhile, plans to address all concerns commissioners raised when they voted to issue the notice of prospect of revocation.

The State Public Charter School Commission voted to start the process for revoking the school’s charter contract at its March 14 meeting in Honolulu, according to the notice posted on its website. The commission hasn’t posted minutes for that meeting, but a copy of the notice posted to the commission website said the commission grounded the decision in evidence it said suggests the school violated aspects of the law as well as the state public charter school contract.

The notice outlines a number of allegations including some involving the school’s relationship with the nonprofit Friends of Kona Pacific Public Charter School, which owns the land on which the school is located. Both the notice itself and a letter to the school’s faculty, staff, parents and families reference allegations that the school commingled funds with the Friends and overpaid lease rent to the nonprofit and that the nonprofit was driving financial decisions made by the school governing board.

But in a March 21 letter published on the school’s website and addressed to the commission’s executive director and members, Kona Pacific’s board members raised their own allegations of wrongdoing against the commission, insisting that it rescind the letter and vote as well as remove the message about the notice from its own website.

Included in the school’s argument is a direct allegation that the commission violated the state’s Sunshine Law, arguing that the meeting notice for the March 14 meeting didn’t have an agenda inclusive of everything to be considered that day and that the notice and agenda didn’t correlate with what the commission actually discussed during that meeting.

The governing board also alleged that commissioners weren’t given a response the school had prepared in response to concerns commissioners raised at a February meeting regarding its relationship to the Friends nonprofit and submitted in advance of the recent meeting. The governing board also accused the commission of raising a new issue at the recent meeting, blindsiding the board without giving them a chance to provide informed responses or consult with an attorney.

An accompanying post said the school will also be responding to the notice of prospect of revocation and “will be addressing all of the commission’s concerns” in that response.

The Kona Pacific Public Charter School governing board president didn’t respond to a request for comments by press time Tuesday.

Michael Kramer, who is president of the Friends of Kona Pacific Public Charter School, said he’d welcome the opportunity to rebut the allegations pertaining to the nonprofit organization and its relationship to the school, but said the commission has never sought his input.

He said a memorandum of agreement exists between the nonprofit and the school that was approved by the attorney general and accepted by the commission.

“But unfortunately it appears that the relationship is being interpreted to be problematic,” he said, “even though there are long-standing practices that have been proven to be above-board.”

Commission staff could not be reached for comment Tuesday, which was a state holiday.

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After the commission issued a notice of prospect of revocation to Ka‘u Learning Academy toward the end of November 2017, the commission’s chairwoman at the time was quoted in a news report saying that a decision to revoke the charter initiates a timeline to be determined by the commission either at a hearing, which a school has the option of requesting, or a subsequent meeting.

The commission voted to revoke Ka‘u Learning Academy’s charter last July, according to news files.

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