Hualalai Academy on Big Island Closing, Needs Funds to Get Through School Year – Board of Director Under Fire From Parents

Parents of students that attend Hualalai Academy on the Big Island of Hawaii were shocked when they received an email on Friday from the Board of Directors of the School, Dr. Matt James, that told them the academy would be closing it’s doors for good at the end of the academic year OR SOONER.

Hualalai Academy on the Big Island

Hualalai Academy on the Big Island

The letter basically stated the school needed to raise $3,000.00 per student just to be able to complete the school year.

I tried to warn folks about the legitimacy of some of the things this alleged “Dr.” was doing previously on my website:

Dr. Matt James

Dr. Matt James

Today I got an email from a parent from one of the students that attends the campus and she is concerned about her kids future at this school and whether he will even complete the school year at the school:

“Aloha Damon
I’m a concerned parent who’s child attends Hualalai. We received a letter Friday that they will be closing their doors before end if school year. We are currently trying to get answers and can’t get any. We started looking into the president of the board Dr. Matt James and seen do did a story on him awhile back, we found that his past seems to be shady. Looking for some help.”

I’ve forwarded this information on to some of my other journalist friends and we will see if we can get some answers for the students.  In the meantime here is the letter that students brought home to their parents yesterday:

 January 17, 2014

Dear Hualalai Academy Ohana,

It is with a heavy and sad heart I must share with you that Hualalai Academy must close its doors at the conclusion of this academic year or sooner if we are unable to secure additional funding. We are turning to you, the ohana, to help the school get through this school year.

Before I begin and share with you the entire series of events, I want you to know that as parents of two children who attend this amazing school, my wife and I are devastated. The faculty and Board of Directors have done everything we can and at this point we do not see a miracle on the horizon.

John Colson, the Board of Directors and I have been working on our financial challenge since July 1st of this school year. To begin, please keep in mind that John left a wonderful job at HPA to join us. He believed this school was special and that it could become the premier independent school in Kona.

First, we identified the school needed to cut expenses and reduce overhead. John did this immediately and put the school in a position to be as close to a balanced budget as possible. Furthermore, the board made the difficult decision of conducting a teach-out for the high school and suspending operation at the end of May 2014. Both of these actions set up our ability to stabilize the school.

Next, we secured funding to fill gaps created by a smaller than usual enrollment to complete the first half of the school year. This temporary loan assisted the school to remain functional, and it allowed John and I the necessary time to meet with the bank and work on our debt restructuring. While the school owns the land, it has also incurred significant debt over the years.

The school campus, both land and structures, has a significantly higher value in comparison to our debt; therefore, based on this, we created a three to five year business plan to improve the school. As a part of the plan, we met with the bank to restructure the loans and refinance the land. Based on the land value and our plan, we were very confident the bank would approve the plan and assist us with a new financial package. We have been with this bank since the foundation of our school and have a good working relationship with them.

So, with the land asset, John running the school, and our business plan, the meeting went extremely well. The bank gave us positive indications and we were asked to wait. Because of this response, we only pursued one other avenue which was a possible sale of the land to finance our operations. After waiting for two months, we were informed by the bank that not only would they NOT refinance the land, they would not assist us in any other fashion.

During the two month wait, we also met with all of the viable banks in Hawaii to no avail. Additionally, we worked with an investment company from the mainland, explored the option of becoming a charter school with authorities and we have looked for a buyer to purchase the land all with the legitimate expectation that we could stay open and continue to deliver the amazing Hualalai Academy Experience.

As of January 16, with no other viable options for the school, we felt we must disclose our financial situation to you. Thus, we must now work to find transitional funding to complete this school year and assist families as they begin to find other educational options for the 2014-2015 school year. To put our financial situation into perspective, the school needs to raise approximately $3000 per student to make it through the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year.

On behalf of the full board, I thank you for your support of Hualalai Academy and being a part of our ohana. We are now doing everything we can to complete this year, and we need your support and help. To be clear, without additional funding the school year may have to be shortened.

Should you have questions, please contact John at your convenience.

With a heavy heart,

Dr. Matt James, Chair

Board of Directors

Hualalai Academy


7 Responses

  1. Dr Scamartist……

  2. We the families, faculty, and staff of Hualalai Academy are left with the uncertainty of tomorrow. Yet one would think that during these hard times we would be standing united as one, showing our children that keeping our school in operation is our top priority. Isn’t sad that instead of working to remedy the situation at hand we have people who have opted to push blame onto others. Can you not see that this is not something that happened overnight? This has been an issue since before Matt James was appointed chair.

    Where is the Aloha? Have we lost it? Or did you not have it to begin with? If we ever had the chance for someone to assist financially, why would they? Do you feel that your efforts to slander others have paved way to a brighter future for our Keiki? I surely do not believe you have. Instead I feel ashamed that I am part of a School Ohana whose members are full of unwanted and unnecessary shenanigans. It’s SAD!

    We all pay tuition Matt James included, and he like every parent at HA want the best for our children. How does the closing if the school benefit him,
    his children, or ours! Wake up people you may live on an island, but your hurtful tactics are barbaric. Most of our children have gone to school with each other since kindergarten and it’s sad to see what this ordeal has done to people. We are all at a loss here…. All Hualalai Academy Students, families, faculty, and staff.

    Remember….. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” -Abraham Lincoln

    ~ HA Parent

  3. Good!!! FINELY taxpeers don’t have to pay for nonsenc hula! u pay I don’t wanna pay
    for stone age dance!!!

  4. I am perturbed after reading about Dr. James and after some research on him I don’t understand why the school would vote this type of individual as part of the board or allow a person of his nature to even be a part of the school. Not only does this concern the community but very alarming for the parents knowing that someone of his nature is in charge of our children’s school.

  5. This Dr. Matt james is a fraud what he is trying to do is try to close this school down sohe can open his kona University

  6. I am a grandparent of a child that attends Hualalai Academy. I am amazed that I am reading this letter from Dr. Matt James on a Holiday weekend. To receive the letter in an e-mail, on a Friday, during a holiday is not acceptable.

    If the school had financial problems before the beginning of the school year, it should have been disclosed to the parents a long time before this. The school owes the parents a full financial disclosure and a public meeting to explain the situation.

    Since the school needs over $300,000+ to stay open for the remainder of the school year, what are the proposals from the Board and the faculty? Why would Dr. James even suggest closing the school prior to the end of the year? Where are these students going to be placed, since the other “limited resources” for education are full for the year?

    If Dr. James is requesting $3,000 per student per family, that is out of line. The tuition of one student is $14,000 per year and it is and was the school’s responsibility to manage the funds properly. Where is and was the oversight of the schools finances? Why do we have financial problems this year and not other years? What has changed? The tuition fees are normally based on the student enrollment, so what happened.

    Other than selling Subway’s Sandwiches, as a fund raiser, what other fundraisers has the school accomplished this school year? Does the “Ohana Group” think it’s time to start working?

    My greatest concern is for my grandchild’s continued education. This child is brilliant and has a wonderful future ahead. The major part of a child’s day is spent in the school and with their classmates. The child forms their opinion of “school” early in life and holds that opinion forever. Is it fair to the child to close the academy before the end of the school year? I think not! I don’t want our bright child to have any memories of school, other than positive.

    Many families have sacrificed so their children could attend the academy for a quality education. They personally put their children in the hands of Hualalai Academy and expect the school to fulfill it’s commitment through the end of the school year !

    We the families need answers!

  7. I was a parent of a student at this school for the last 6 years. Tempting as it may be to blame anyone on the Board for this situation, it really has nothing to do with it. The school is very expensive, and when the economy tanked a few years back, enrollment dropped severely, creating spending cuts that affected the quality of the educational program. Parents continued to pull their kids out, as there was a palpable sense that the energy of the school was deflating. Fundraising for a private school is tough considering all the other worthy causes in the community, and the school had minimal success attracting foundation grants. The academic program was not particularly exceptional, but the small class size has always been great for students. But ultimately, parents need to feel like it’s worth such high tuition, and more and more parents simply felt it wasn’t. My son loved his teachers there, but beyond that, there just wasn’t a sense that the school community was thriving. After last school year, there was a major faculty exodus – parents generally interpreted this as quality people leaving a sinking ship. The Board members are dedicated, but there’s only so much they can do if there aren’t enough parents willing to pay. Kona Pacific Waldorf School suffered the same fate 7 years ago; 2 years later a charter school opened on that campus and now has 235 students, and the private school feeling of that school drew many Hualalai Academy families away. Innovations Charter School has as well. This is a community with limited resources and options, so if people can get an “alternative” education via a charter school, the expensive private school cannot survive.

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