Charter schools turn to fundraising, volunteers to tackle basic facilities needs

Public charters schools turn to fundraising, volunteers to tackle basic facilities needs
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Milika'a Vierra)
(Image: Milika'a Vierra)

KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At Ke Kula 'O Samuel M. Kamakau public charter school in Haiku Valley, students get to class via a pothole-ridden access road and eat lunch under a canopy because there's no standalone cafeteria.

The facilities issues underscore the obstacles that charter schools face every day, school officials say, and it's something they're trying to change.

"I'm a perfect world, we devote all of our resources to the classrooms, to the curriculum, to the teachers, to the children, but we are busy trying to take care of potholes and some fundamental issues. We spend resources that should be in the classroom," said Kamakau administrator Elizabeth Aulsebrook.

Public charter schools got $7,080.17 per student this school year from the state, but that funding fluctuates every year and none of it is meant for facilities. Instead, any facilities projects are covered by volunteer work, fundraising, donations and grants.

It's a sacrifice parents at Kamakau, a Hawaiian language immersion school, are willing to make to have their children in specialized learning environment.

The lack of facilities funding for charter schools has been a years-long concern at the state Legislature. This year, at least three different bills seek to address funding issues.

In the meantime, students, parents and staff at schools like Kamakau continue to make do with what they have.

Students say potholes on the road leading up to the school get bigger during heavy rains. The school says different portions of the road belong to different entities -- the state, Kamehameha Schools and private landowners -- so getting the road fixed has been a challenge.

On their drive up the road, 10th graders Kalehua Kelling and Waialeale Sarsona joke that they hope the road gets fixed before they graduate.

"You have to drive really, really slowly to not damage your tires or your car because of how deep the potholes are," Kelling said.

Meanwhile, the lack of a place to eat is also a concern.

The school's 157 students currently eat under a makeshift tent with a dirt floor. When it rains, the ground turns into a muddy mess.

"Because we eat on this mulch and dirt, it turns into mud and walking on it, it's slippery and it's not that great," Sarsona said.

There's also classrooms that are sitting empty because they're in need of repairs.

Besides typical school fundraising, Kamakau school has concerts and pothole patching work days with volunteers, donations and support of the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. It's also trying to raise $150,000 to pay for a new cafeteria, but the immediate concern remains fixing the road.

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