Note that what follows is taken from documents provided to Commission director Sione Thompson. He was directed by KLA administration to provide this information to the Charter Commissioners for a meeting they held to discuss the future of KLA. Mr. Thompson refused to provide the commissioners with the documents, leaving them to think that KLA had not responded to the concerns they had.
The following are answers to the charges made by the Hawaii State Charter Commission against Kau Learning Academy (KLA). These are the answers that should have been given by KLA’s board, but they were new to the system, and they trusted the commission to lead them in a direction that would allow the school to stay open. They chose not to fight the allegations, but instead, focus on moving forward. Sione Thompson, the charter commission’s executive director, gave KLA’s board the impression that, as long as they went along with everything the commission wanted, they would get to keep the school. The commission never had any intention of allowing KLA to remain open. They had deep political reasons to close the school that will be explained in future posts. Here are the answers to each charge made by the Hawaii State Charter School Commission against KLA:
1. The “lack of internal controls” refers to an error made by the KLA bookkeeper. The school founders filed a letter with CU Hawaii stating that the bookkeeper would have no access to funds. This was done to ensure the separation of duties. By a loophole in the bank’s system, the bookkeeper was able to pay a bill through Billpay online. This violated the separation of duties. This had nothing to do with the school leaders; they did their part by submitting the letter to the bank. This was a bank error.
The use of school funds for personal expenses refers to the bookkeeper accidentally paying another employee’s internet bill. The bill somehow became mixed in with the school bills, and she paid it by mistake. Over three years of running the school, and managing a million-dollar budget, that is the ONLY time that happened. Mistakes often happen in school accounting and in business accounting. Three CPA’s said this is no big deal, but the charter commission does not even have a CPA on staff, so none of them are qualified to understand an audit. KLA’s own auditor wrote a 4-page letter on the school’s behalf and in their defense.
2. KLA’s bookkeeper was new. She did not have the skills to close the books at the end of year and handle an audit, so KLA hired an accountant to help her. THE COMMISSION PUSHED THE AUDIT DATE UP BY TWO WEEKS, making everyone have to scramble and rush to close the books. The accountant who was hired to close the books and prepare for the audit made some clerical errors—but NOTHING major.
3. KLA is not sure what this means. The commission failed to provide ANY example of this, so it seems to be a vague charge that is not rooted in any facts.
4. In the school’s first few months of operation in 2015 (as a brand new school), the school failed to send union dues to the Teachers Union. The commission was responsible for managing all of the benefits like insurance, retirements money, and union dues. They pulled the money out of the school’s account, but didn’t send it to the union. The school was responsible for it, but had no way of knowing. KLA was 3-months old at the time, and the commission provided ZERO training. It was reasonable to assume that, since the commission sent all of the other benefits to the appropriate organizations, they would have sent the union dues too, because they were the ones who pulled the money out of the teachers’ checks. The day the school found out about the problem, they immediately sent the dues to the HSTA.
5. The entire state of Hawaii is struggling to hire licensed teachers because of an extreme shortage. Finding teachers in a rural district such as Kau is even harder. Any person can google “teacher shortage in Hawaii” and find pages and pages and pages of stories about teacher shortages and schools hiring unqualified and uncertified “emergency hires.” Why is KLA being singled out? Here is just one clip from a news story out of hundreds on the internet:
The Scramble To Recruit New Teachers — And Keep Them In Hawaii
Relying on Emergency Hires
The teacher shortage has forced the DOE to rely on unlicensed teachers. Of the 1,240 new teachers last school year, roughly one-third were certified at Hawaii’s universities. About 40 percent had teaching certificates from other states.
But another 328 of the new teachers were unlicensed, meaning they had a college degree but did not go through a teacher certification program. That last group is known as “emergency hires.”
Corey Rosenlee, head of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, criticizes the school system for placing unqualified teachers in high-need areas like special education, secondary math and secondary English. If such positions aren’t filled by the start of the school year, emergency hires will fill those spots.
That only perpetuates the teacher retention problem, he said.
“There’s often a desperate need to fill vacancies by putting any adult in the classroom,” Rosenlee said. “If you put someone who is not trained inside the classroom, they will leave, and that is what we’ve seen in Hawaii.”
The Hawaii Teacher Standards Board — which issues teacher licenses — has already issued 270 emergency hire permits ahead of the new school year.
6. KLA did enroll some students in grades that were not typically age appropriate. Part of KLA’s academic plan is to provide every student and individualized education plan. Are all 12-year-olds exactly alike? Do they all have the exact same experiences, IQ’s, background schooling? Do they all belong in the exact same grade just because of the year they were born? KLA worked hard to place students in classes where they would be most successful. Sometimes that meant placing a fourth grader in a fifth-grade math class. Though a few of KLA’s students were age appropriate for 8th grade, they were enrolled in 7th. These were decisions made as a collaborative effort between parents and administration. It is perfectly legal to hold a student back—it happens in every school every year. In fact, it should happen more often. Kids are usually just pushed along in the system even if they completely failed the previous grade. How are they supposed to catch up? They don’t. They end up dropping out of school. There is absolutely no wrong doing on the part of KLA in this matter.
7. There were no enrollment discrepancies to report. See number 6.
8. The commission did not provide one single example of “student records not being maintained properly.” This is a very vague charge that has no validity. If any record were missing from student files, it would be because parents failed to send the records to the school. This is the case for all schools throughout the nation and the commission knows this full well.
9. Once again, the commission has not provided one single example of this. This is vague and does not address any fact. Additionally, it is the commission’s job to manage insurance, retirement monies, and other benefits.
10. The commission approved KLA’s board in its original contract and continued to accept the board for almost three years. Why all the sudden is the board not okay?
11. Board members were elected by a majority vote of other board members. This is in full compliance with KLA’s by-laws.
12. The only “conflict of interest” policy that might have been violated was hiring a board member to build KLA’s ADA bathrooms. However, the charter commission was fully aware that one of the board members was building them, and it was never a problem. As Big Island residents know, it is very difficult to find qualified people to do jobs in Kau. The schools in Kau have failed to provide a good education to students for decades, and this has caused a huge deficit in the workforce.
13. The commission said that certain students were given preference by testing in certain areas. Anyone who has seen the school’s campus knows that it is not conducive to testing. The state does not provide facilities funding, so the school uses Costco gazebos as outdoor classrooms. When it rains or when the wind blows hard, it can be difficult for students to concentrate. KLA broke down the school population into small testing groups and placed the small groups into the best spaces they had. Some kids tested in the only air conditioned classroom on campus, some tested in the air conditioned truck office, and some tested in the air conditioned bus office. There is nothing sinister about any of this. This is the most offensive charge, because KLA kids worked so incredibly hard to pass that state test, and they are being robbed of that success by the charter commission. KLA has evidence to prove their students were prepared to pass the state test. The school was recognized on a national level for the reading gains they achieved. The commission and the teacher’s union hate this, because the teachers who took the kids to the incredible academic levels they achieved were not licensed teachers or union members. They were good, hard working individuals whose students scored way higher than those of the licensed teachers on staff. This is part of the real reason the commission wants the school shut down. KLA showed that unlicensed teachers scored better than high-priced, licensed, union teachers.
14. The commission did not give one single specific example of this, because it is not true. Every single teacher at KLA had a criminal background check.
15. In its first year of operations, KLA hired Teach for America teachers from the mainland. Teach for America teachers are used throughout the state because of the teacher shortage in Hawaii. In Kau, it is even harder to find teachers and staff because the area is so remote. It takes almost two hours to get to a Walmart from Naalehu. After several outsiders moved away during or after the first year in operation, the school tried to hire local people as much as possible—after all, the school was started for the community and should be run by the community. Some of the people hired in the first year needed training. They received that training through other KLA employees as well as outside contractors. The school had a learning curve. People need to understand that, when a charter school is approved by the commission, the commission doesn’t provide so much as a single training manual. KLA leaders trained their staff and hired contractors to help train when needed, but they also understood that the staff would make mistakes as they learned. The school leaders knew it would be a difficult year, but they also understood that training takes time, and by the following year, those employees would be excellent at their jobs. Everyone did a great job that year, and no one deserved what the commission just did to this school.
16. KLA’s contractor was working with the county throughout the entire year to get the ADA bathrooms approved. The county inspected every aspect of the building. The piece of paper might have been late, but the contractor was working with all departments of the county throughout the entire year—including fire.
The charter commission provides absolutely NO support whatsoever to any of its charter schools. The commission calls itself “an oversight only organization.” They refuse to help new schools learn and grow. Compare that to the Department of Education Schools who have the entire Department of Education to help them learn and grow. Charter school get half the funding, zero facilities money, and ZERO TRAINING. The commission doesn’t even have guidelines or policies and procedures of their own, so trying to figure out how to run a charter school properly is next to impossible-but KLA did it. Running a school with no support would not be so bad, but to make matters worse, the commission constantly beat the school down. They hated KLA from the first few months, and they never let up on trying to get the school shut down. This was a vindictive personal attack on the school for political reasons that run very deep. The founder of KLA, worked for Naalehu Elementary School from 2011-2013, and during this time the computer technician at the school, Bob Martin, offered her pictures of test questions from the state HSA exam. Cheating on the state exam could cost a teacher his or her license—it is very serious. She refused the pictures and filed a report to the principal, Darlene Javar. Javar refused to act on it, so KLA’s founder sent a letter a to Mary Correa who was the Complex Area Superintendent (CAS) and Ronn Nozoe, an assistant superintendent who is now an assistant superintendent on a federal level in Washington DC. KLA’s founder had corroborating testimony from another teacher who was also offered the test question pictures, and she has written evidence in her possession to this day. The Hawaii Department of Education wanted it swept under the rug, so they fired her instead of investigating the charges. No one ever called the teacher who corroborated KLA’s founder’s story.
What does this have to do with KLA being shut down? Mitch D’ollier, the acting chairperson of the Hawaii State Charter Commission, led the charge against KLA. He is also a director of the Castle Foundation, a philanthropic organization that accepts money from individuals and organizations to use for good deeds throughout the state of Hawaii. He authorized a $10,000 cash “gift” to Mary Correa and a $10,000 cash “gift” to Ronn Nozoe. To be clear—The Castle Foundation mission is to do good deeds in Hawaii, and they used donor’s money to give $20,000 cash to two of Mitch D’Ollier’s friends. These are the friends that buried the Naalehu Elementary School cheating evidence that the founder of KLA brought to them. Mary Correa did this, because she was being recognized throughout the state for “turning Naalehu School around,” and she certainly didn’t want anyone to know that the small growth the school showed was due to cheating. KLA’s founder was fired from Naalehu School shortly after making the report even though her students’ state test scores far surpassed the state average which had never been done in Naalehu School before. In fact, the school had always been the lowest achieving in the state. Mary Correa, Ronn Nozoe, and Mitch D’Olllier had reason to want to her to go away---but she didn’t.
KLA’s founder, Kathryn Tydlacka, started working to open a charter school which is Kau Learning Academy. While at Naalehu School, Ms. Tydlacka stayed after school two to three days a week to tutor kids at her own expense. She also arranged field trips for the kids and sacrificed her time and life to loving and helping Kau kids any way she could. This is why the families of Kau loved and trusted her and signed their children up for KLA. Ms. Tydlacka spent her entire savings, $26,000, to open a restaurant to raise money and awareness for the school. She and her husband ran the restaurant every Friday and Saturday night for two years and never took a salary. For three years, they worked 12-15 hour days cleaning, painting, scrubbing floors, cutting cane grass, putting a roof on the dilapidated building, all while writing a FOUR-HUNDRED PAGE charter school application and running a restaurant with no salary of any kind. They gave their blood, sweat, tears and life savings to the children of Kau, because of their love for these kids and desire to see them have a chance to succeed in life.
The allegations against the school are false. They are vague, unsubstantiated, and some are outright lies. The commission convinced the new, inexperienced KLA Board of Directors to go along with admitting to the lies by making them believe they could keep the school open if they threw the founders under the bus and agreed to move forward in a different direction. The new board complied. They meant well, but they followed a very bad path. They refused to listen to the founders who told them to fight the false allegations. They believed they could pacify the commission and keep the school open—but, the truth is, you can’t negotiate with terrorists. This Hawaii State Charter Commission NEVER had any intention of allowing the school to continue. They had a strong political reason to kill it. They wanted the new KLA Board to demonize the founders, so they could make the public believe it was their fault the school closed. However, the truth is—the entire case against the school was based on trumped-up charges and lies. Imagine going to court for a crime you never committed and never having the opportunity to speak in your own defense or present any testimony of any kind. Imagine that the prosecutor was knowingly making false accusations without one thread of evidence against you. Imagine being found guilty and losing everything when you and the prosecutor knew full well that you were innocent. That is what happened to Kau Learning Academy.
Over the next few days and weeks, we will be putting more information on this website. We will post all of the emails, the audio recordings, and all other evidence against the commission, the DOE and others involved. Please give us time to get all of this information together. There is so much of it, that it will be a full-time job. We are doing it because the TRUTH NEEDS TO BE TOLD.
Thank you for reading this.
On January 16, 2018 Hawaii Deputy Attorney General Gregg Ushiroda sent a letter to the Charter Commission. In this letter he responded to misleading and false allegations and statements by the commission. In part he very strongly states: ”The Commission, however, failed to inform these same students and families that: (a) the independent auditor’s report included Ka'u Learning Academy’s response and corrective action plan; and (b) that Ka'u Learning Academy’s was following and implementing the independent auditor’s recommendations to address these “serious concerns.” This one-sided narrative put out by the Commission has only caused the spread of unfounded rumors of school closure and uncertainty in the community about the school’s future. One can only wonder as to whether the Commission has already made its determination before Ka'u Learning Academy is afforded its statutory right to contest revocation."
In this letter Mr. Ushiroda clearly shows his frustration with the commission's blatant attempt to withhold information from the families of KLA students and to paint KLA administration in the worst possible light. It is clear that the commission was working toward closing the school. To help them to this nefarious goal they embarked on a concerted campaign of misinformation, lies and deceitful manipulation.