December 2009 Home   Newsletters

May 2010

President's Message
LWVHC Runs Charter School Conversion Election (Sue Irvine)
Testimony on County Code of Ethics (Helen Hemmes)
Members Approve Dues Increase (Donna Oba)
Update: Charter Article 15 - Initiation of Amendments and Revisions (Sue Dursin)
Vote Counts in West Hawaii (Marian Wilkins)
LWV Hawaii County Annual General Meeting 4-10-10 (Margaret Drake)
Update: Hawaii County Charter Commission (Sue Dursin)
LWVHC By-Law Amendments - Adopted April 10, 2010
Update on Act 244: Comprehensive Public Campaign Funding (Sue Dursin)
2010 Election Calendar
State and National Conventions
Anti-Gambling Results (Sue Dursin)

LWVHC Runs Charter School Conversion Election

In February 2010, for the first time, the Hawaii Island LWV coordinated an election for a charter school conversion. Whether a school remains a traditional public school or converts to a public charter school is a major decision for a school community – a decision fraught with strong emotions on both sides of the issue as it means big changes for the students, the faculty, and the community.

Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School (LHES) is a rural K-12 school on the Hamakua coast of Hawai`i Island, some 30 miles from another high school. The school has 200 students, K-12, and, according to charter school backers, is on a short list of schools to be closed.

In December 2008, a community-based organization called Save/Improve Our School (SOS) was formed in Laupahoehoe and in October 2009, the US Department of Education awarded a $450,000 grant to SOS to convert LHES to Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School.

LWVHC was approached by SOS to run the conversion election. Based on an estimate of the number of possible voters (300 maximum), I told the SOS committee that our charges would be under $500. In the end we ran a combination mail-in and walk-in election. My estimate proved to be half of what we should have charged, due to 3 time-consuming factors:

  • State law on conversions does not make it entirely clear who is eligible to vote. According to charter law 302b:
    The application shall include certification and documentation that the application and the proposed detailed implementation plan was approved by a majority of the votes cast by existing ADMINISTRATIVE, SUPPORT, TEACHING PERSONNEL, AND PARENTS OF STUDENTS at the proposed conversion charter school.

Immediately, we included guardians of students in the list. Girlfriends of guardians? No. Grandparents caring for children? Yes. Parents of those enrolled for kindergarten in fall 2010? No. The list of questionable voters went on. The principal had ultimate discretion over who was eligible to vote – fortunately, he was fair in his decisions, but I spent many hours emailing him over the list.
  • The original list of eligible voters from the DOE was lacking. It included 245 names. Most of the returned ballots were from school personnel, whose addresses/names were incorrect. This necessitated reporting and re-mailing of ballots.
  • The pro-charter committee was entirely responsible for the election. To preserve League’s non-partisan reputation, I spent time reviewing their literature concerning the implications of the vote and made some changes, but I was no expert on the situation at LHES, and the administration offered no statement, so the literature that went out may have been biased.

On February 10, Margaret Drake, Marianna Scheffer, and I drove out to Laupahoehoe to sit for 7 hours running a polling site for the election at the Laupahoehoe school complex. We sorted and verified names on the votes collected in the mail-in vote while we allowed people to vote in person. Observers from the SOS committee were present and the principal came through on a regular basis to help solve challenged votes (those from people whose names were not on the official list.)

At 7:00 p.m., the polls closed and we opened the ballot box as I hoped fervently that the vote would be decisive and could not possibly challenged by the 3 “challenged votes” held separately. The vote was 145 for conversion, 35 against.

As I write this, the State charter school commission has said presently there are no funds to administer any more charter schools, so Laupahoehoe’s request for conversion is in limbo and their grant funds may lapse. Valere McFarland, Education Chair for LWVHI, testified before the commission in support of preserving small, community based schools.

Sue Irvine

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