PUC approves electric rate increase for MECO

Electric rates will increase by 3.3 percent on Molokai after the Hawaii Public Utility Commission on Wednesday approved Maui Electric Company’s request for rate increase.

The increase reflects a previously announced settlement agreement between Maui Electric and the State Division of Consumer Advocacy, the parties in the case. The PUC will continue to review details of the request and later issue a final decision. If, at that time, a lower final increase is approved, the difference would be refunded to customers with interest.

The PUC approval also increases rates on Maui and Lanai by 3.3 percent or $10.3 million across Maui County.

The impact of this increase will vary between individuals depending on the type of customer and the electric usage amounts. The average resident on Molokai, based on 500 kilowatts of use, can expect to pay an additional $5.21 per month, bringing the average monthly bill to $187.67. On Maui the average monthly bill will increase by $5.43 per month and by $5.65 on Lanai.

The rate increase will go into effect this Sunday, Aug. 1.

The increase will help pay for more than $122 million in new capital projects to improve service reliability. Among those projects is the improvement of power plant control systems on Maui, new or expanded substations, replacement and upgrade of underground lines, investments in transformers, poles, meters and other facilities to maintain reliable service and fulfill new service requests from customers.

The increase will also cover costs for more frequent inspections of utility poles and lines and increased tree trimming around power lines for greater reliability, and more extensive servicing of generating units to maintain efficiency.

MECO originally submitted its rate increase application in September 2009 and had requested $28.2 million, or 9.7 percent. The PUC held a public hearing on Molokai on the proposed increase in December 2009.

MECO’s last general rate increase was 3.7 percent, received in December 2007.

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Kualapu’u Elementary: Charting a new course for education reform

From left, Kalani Han. Lydia Trinidad and David Lichtenstein from Kualapu'u Elementary visited Chicago for the National Charter School Conference.

By David Lichtenstein

The number of charter schools in this country has increased by 40 percent over the past five years. This fairly new model for public education now serves over 1.6 million students in nearly 5,000 schools. The impact of this movement can be felt in all corners of this country, including Molokai.

Evaluating the success of charter schools is not an easy task. In some places, charter schools have clearly not served the student population as well as traditional public schools. But in other places, especially in inner-city neighborhoods, charter schools have proved that they can transform rundown and failing schools into places of hope and success.

Test results are the most tangible measurement of school success. In Hawaii, the Department of Education uses the Hawaii State Assessment tests as the primary benchmark to determine Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for each school as mandated under the federal No Child Left Behind statutes.

Based on AYP and other positive changes, Kualapu’u Elementary School, Molokai’s only public charter school, has been one of the success stories. The school has met the AYP benchmarks for several years in a row, placing it in the status of “good standing, unconditional” with the state. This year, Kualapu’u improved the percentage of students proficient in reading by 6 percent and in math by 14 percent.

With an enrollment of 385 students, Kualapu’u is the largest elementary school on Molokai. The next two largest elementary schools on Molokai, Kaunakakai Elementary and Kilohana Elementary, did not meet AYP this year.

But test scores are not the only measurement of success. Since converting from a regular public school to a charter school in June of 2004, Kualapu’u has added a pre-school, a full-time physical education teacher and last year avoided closing on furlough Fridays.

More dramatic changes will be starting next week when the 2010-2011 school year begins. The school community and the Hawaii Charter School Review Panel approved an Expanded Learning Time initiative that will add about one hour to each school day. Helping make this possible will be a private payroll system that will replace the DOE system. A second PE teacher has also been added.

Lydia Trinidad, principal at Kualapu’u, said ELT would not have been possible without the flexibility that the charter school system allows.

“I’ve always been in one large district (in Hawaii),” said Trinidad. “The one-size-fits-all model is sometimes a frustrating way to serve the community. You can have a good solution but it takes a long time to implement.”

This local flexibility allows charter schools to negotiate with the teacher’s union separately from the DOE and manage their own finances. Unlike a DOE school, a charter can create and advertise staff positions as needed. For instance, the school has a full-time reading curriculum coordinator and a math curriculum coordinator to help ensure the school stays on track in meeting state standards in those areas. Trinidad attributes much of the success in meeting AYP to the work of these two coordinators.

To stay on top of the latest educational trends, Kualapu’u sends members of the school community to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools national conference.

“We have tried to send a team every year, members of the Local Advisory Panel and/or a teacher leadership team,” said Trinidad. “Sending our representatives allows our staff and parents a view of the larger movement — how big it is and how schools are different within the charter world.”

As a community member of the LAP Committee, I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s conference in Chicago from June 28 to July 1. Also attending were Kalani Han — a parent, LAP member and the school’s resident farmer — and Trinidad. We attended numerous breakout sessions in areas like student achievement, quality innovation and leadership development. The general sessions provided updates on the political changes in education from the leaders and politicians who support charter schools. Keynote speakers included Bill Gates of Microsoft and Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix.

During the conference, the three of us were able to observe the Namaste Charter School in Chicago while it was still in session. With the slogan “educating children from the inside out,” this K-6 ethnically diverse school offers a holistic approach to education that emphasizes health and nutrition training and regular exercise. Every student begins each day with a healthy breakfast and yoga. Vigorous daily physical education instruction goes along with rigorous academic instruction.

Trinidad found the visit to Namaste to be particularly interesting because Kualapuu is attempting some similar innovations with its ELT program.

“I liked the ideas at Namaste — the alternative menu, snacks, all with unprocessed foods. It showed that it can be done and still meet (nutritional) guidelines,” said Trinidad. She said she also liked the emphasis on rigorous physical education classes. Under ELT, every Kualapuu student will have daily PE instruction.

Trinidad said the annual conference provides an opportunity to learn about the diversity of charter schools, many of which have only been in existence a few years. Many charters get started because of the passion of a few parents or educators to define the needs of their community. They included technical, Hebrew language, traditional, science-oriented, arts-oriented and too many other types of schools to list. Combined with the hundreds of educational service exhibitors, the conference showed the tremendous amount of support provided to charter schools nationwide.

Trinidad believes that the charter movement is leading the way in educational innovation.

“Charter schools will grow because there will be more pressure and desire to have strong outcomes. If the powers-that-be want that they have to allow principals to manage and run their schools,” said Trinidad.

Tri-L Construction to clean Kaluakoi drainage

A drainage system owned by Molokai Ranch in the Kaluakoi area will finally receive the maintenance it needs after an exemption to a Special Management Area assessment was granted by the Molokai Planning Commission today.

Darryl Leal of Tri-L Construction explained the job to the commissioners. His company has been hired by Molokai Ranch to remove soil and debris four times a year over the next seven years. Approximately 700 cubic yards of material will be removed from the drainageway in the Kawakiu Nui area of Kaluakoi, just north of the closed golf course.

Commissioner Lori Buchanan expressed concern about the digging. If it goes more than three feet below the surface an archeological monitor would need to be brought in. Apparently this area is home to buried ancestral iwi (bones). Leal assured the commissioners that this project would not need to dig that deep.

The removed debris and material will be taken to Naiwa for temporary stockpiles. Although the application asked for a seven-year exemption, the motion to approve the SMA exemption removed this time limit with the understanding that this drainage would be maintained in perpetuity.

Livestock Coop receives $35,000 county grant

Maui County announced today that it has given out $230,750 in grants, including a $35,000 grant to the Molokai Livestock Cooperative.

The slaughterhouse provides services to Molokai’s livestock producers who provide fresh meat to local markets. The grant gives livestock producers the opportunity to continue selling their products in Hawaii.

Other funded initiatives include:

• $125,000 — Hawaii Business Research Library of the Hawaii Small Business Development Center Network.
• $50,000 — Maui Economic Development Board, Inc. received for the Maui High School Automotive Program.
• $7,500 — Maui County Sister Cities Foundation.
• $5,500 — Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc. to support the 51st annual statewide convention of the United Filipino Council of Hawaii.

“These initiatives provide vital support to help our economic growth, provide jobs and invest in skill-building for our future workforce,” said Mayor Charmaine Tavares. “I’m pleased that we are able to provide the critical funding support needed.”

Ohana Broadcast Company drops local radio news and advertising

Ohana Broadcast Company (OBC), owner of Molokai’s only radio station KMKK (102.3 FM), has decided that it will no longer broadcast Molokai news or offer advertising to Molokai businesses.

When asked about local advertising, OBC’s Regional Vice President Trip Reeb wrote last week, “At this point, we are actually embarking on a different sales strategy and are not going to be running local ads on the station in the near future.”

Last week a decision was handed down to no longer broadcast daily Molokai news. Local news originating from the radio station’s studio in Kaunakakai had been broadcast at least three times a day, five days a week since KMKK started four years ago. A Molokai community calendar broadcast twice a day was also dropped.

OBC launched a commercial-free Hawaiian music format on KMKK April 2 with the slogan “Hawaii’s Na Mele 1023.” The radio station was taken over by OBC as the result of a court battle that broke up the partners of Visionary Related Entertainment (VRE).

The long-standing conflict between John Detz of VRE and Jason Wolff’s Frontier Radio Investors was resolved in November of 2009. Detz retained Maui radio stations KAOI (AM and FM), KNUQ-FM, KHEI-FM, four radio translators and a boost for KNUQ-FM. He also received $70,000 to cover deferred payments.

The court case gave Wolff the rest of the company’s stations and a promissory note from VRE for $500,000 over 10 years. VRE will also get $123,000 for reimbursement and expenses.

KMKK-FM broadcasts its signal from a transmission tower in Maunaloa in West Molokai on land rented from Molokai Ranch.

The strength of the radio signal in reaching east and windward Oahu has shifted OBC’s attention to this area. Although no official statement has been released, employees of OBC have suggested that the company may attempt to sell advertising on Oahu.

As a result of the court-ordered split of the two radio groups, Wolff’s company received Talk KQNG-AM, Top 40 KQNG-FM (KONG), AC KUAI-AM, AC KSRF (THE SURF 95.9), Classic Rock KSHK (SHAKA 103), Sports KUMU-A (THE TEAM), AC KUMU-F, Classic Hits KPOI (105.9 THE RIDE), Top 40 KQMQ (93.1 THE ZONE), AC KMKK, Top 40/Rhythmic KDDB (102.7 DA BOMB), and KTBH/HILO.

Inquiries about the future of KMKK-FM can be made to Trip Reeb at tripreeb@ohanabroadcast.com or Director of Programming Rick Thomas at rickthomas@ohanabroadcast.com.

Oceanic Time Warner Cable television service disrupted

A broken fiber line in the Molokai Channel has caused a disruption in Oceanic Time Warner Cable television service. Service problems were reported at 1:10 a.m. today. As of 10 a.m., cable television service on Molokai for all Oahu network stations was still out.

The widespread outage initially included island-wide disruptions for Maui County and Big Island as well as high-speed Internet and home phone service disruptions on Kauai and Oahu. The company has not yet named the cause of the disruption, but said service outages continue on Maui and the Big Island.

Oceanic Time Warner has reported that cable phone and Internet service had returned as of 9:30 a.m.

The broken line is located in the Molokai Channel just south of Lanai in about 1,500 feet of water. The break was characterized as the “rarest of rare” occurrences by a company spokesman. The cause of the break in the line is unknown at this time but a ship was sent out to pull the line from the ocean for repairs.

Company Vice President of Operations, Norman Sakamoto, said he expects to have service fully restored by around 4 o’clock this afternoon, if not sooner.

Possible single-lane closures on Maunaloa Highway

The state Department of Transportation announces that Maunaloa Highway will have possible single-lane closures in alternating directions near Mile Post 13 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The work is for a slope stabilization and drainage-improvement project.