Emotions run high as Big Island charter school faces uncertain future

Updated: Feb. 7, 2018 at 10:57 PM HST
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NAALEHU, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Emotions ran high at a recent meeting about the possible closure of a Big Island charter school.

The state Public Charter School Commission organized the community gathering about Ka'u Learning Academy to explain the "notice of prospect of revocation," the first step in the process of revoking the school's charter.

But the meeting last week turned into a shouting match when Ka'u Learning Academy's executive director reached her two-minute limit to comment and the commission's executive director, Sione Thompson, tried to cut her off.

When several audience members offered Kathryn Tydlacka their time and she continued to speak, Thompson abruptly ended the meeting.

"There was a mix of absolute confusion. People were baffled. People were angry," said Tydlacka.

Thompson said out of respect for everybody, he wanted to keep the best order possible. When that didn't happen, he decided it would be best to end the meeting.

The school in Naalehu opened three years ago. There are 95 students in grades 3 to 7.

"The community loves the school, the kids love the school, and we need to be here," said Tydlacka.

In November, commissioners took the first step to revoke the school's charter after reviewing an auditor's report and listening to testimony from school leaders and others.

The academy hired a CPA and created a corrective action plan after the audit, which found a lack of internal financial controls and additional oversight.

The commission said it takes seriously the use of school funds to pay for a couple of personal expenses. Tydlacka said one case was a mix-up and the other bill was promptly reimbursed.

"If you see the facts behind it, it's really not this sinister thing that the charter commission is trying to make it," she said.

While the school disputes the severity of the concerns raised in the audit, the commission calls the findings significant.

A hearing date will be scheduled soon for commissioners to make a final decision about revoking the charter.

School leaders will be able to present their information, submit testimony, and call witnesses to speak on their behalf.

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