A Windward Oahu school grapples with an uncertain future

Updated: Nov. 22, 2019 at 5:14 PM HST
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KAILUA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - At Keolu Elementary in Kailua, there are 15 students in the entire first grade class.

Keolu’s total enrollment is at 115, one of the lowest in the state according to DOE figures.

First grade teacher Elizabeth Fowlkes says there are pluses to small schools.

“We definitely have an ohana going on where a lot of students get that individualized attention,” she said.

But Fowlkes also described the minuses.

“My biggest concern is that if our enrollment continues to decline that they might appropriate our school in another way,” she said.

While there is no immediate threat of shutting down, administrators and teachers are nervous about dwindling resources as enrollment drops.

Other small schools are grappling with the same issues.

Enrollment at Waiahole Elementary this year is just 86 students. There are 122 students at Kaaawa Elementary.

Angela West, Keolu Elementary’s academic coach, said her biggest concern is resources “and how we can continue to stretch the budget that we have.”

The school receives roughly $7,000 per student based on the DOE’s Weighted Student Formula.

"The fewer children we have, the less funding we receive. My concern right now is to have a teacher for every single grade level,' said Gay King, principal at Keolu Elementary.

She says there are fewer Keolu kids because families are moving west.

“Families cannot afford to live on this side,” she said.

To make ends meet, teachers have multiple roles and write their own grants.

Keolu Elementary is trying to attract more students from outside the district and hopes private school families consider free public education.

Gay says roughly 35% of Keolu Elementary’s students have geographic exemptions and many come from Waimanalo.

In September, the Board of Education’s Committee on Weights recommended the BOE set a clear policy on threshold enrollments for viable small schools.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, who’s on that committee, says that policy could direct the department to look at closure, combining of schools, additional funding or a different funding formula.

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