A controversial decision by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to contract with a new organization to manage $1.5 million in annual funding to Native Hawaiian charter schools drove opponents of the move to voice their displeasure at a Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, and the discussion will continue next week.

At least a dozen speakers implored trustees to reconsider the decision to turn over management of the funds to the Council of Native Hawaiian Advancement following a competitive bidding process.

“You have a moral and financial responsibility to the Hawaiian community,” Robert Ebanez told the trustees. “CNHA is an entity of a political party which has nothing to do with the education of our youth.”

People wait to testify before the OHA Board of Trustees at its meeting Thursday.

Suevon Lee

Critics say that CHNA, a nonprofit that works to empower the Native Hawaiian community, is a political, not educational, group too removed from the concerns and interests of the charter schools to properly manage the $1.5 million grant, which OHA has budgeted for these schools over the last decade.

Several trustees also voiced concerns with the way the bid process was handled by OHA administrators. CNHA outbid a community nonprofit, Kanu O Ka Aina Learning Ohana, which has handled management of the funds for the schools since 2010.

“I would have hoped we could discuss it first,” said Trustee Carmen Hulu Lindsey.

A contract has not yet been finalized between OHA and CNHA — and discussion over the issue will continue Wednesday at another public meeting, which members of the CNHA are expected to attend.

While OHA’s administration, led by Chief Executive Officer Kamana’opono Crabbe, has the authority to award the grant management contract to the most suitable party, the Board of Trustees has the ultimate authority over all OHA matters.

The trustees approved the allocation of funds for the Native Hawaiian charter schools. Staff members, meanwhile, oversaw the process that put out to bid the administration of this funding, which supplements money the schools get from the state Department of Education.

“As an individual trustee, I have not seen any indication that CNHA has violated any ethical or legal processes in obtaining the award,” Trustee Keli‘i Akina told Civil Beat after the meeting. “They bid for a contract and won on a scoring system.”

However, Akina said Thursday’s testimony from the public “further clarified … that there are some concerns that our policy for awarding grants has not addressed.”’

Wearing bright red shirts, audience members who testified invoked their position on Hawaiian sovereignty, which is opposed to the federal recognition of Native Hawaiians that CHNA supports.

“Our children will be taught the truth … they will speak our language and embrace our culture and language,” said Ebanez.

Charter school parent Healani Sonoda-Pale told trustees she was “deeply concerned” about the way CNHA approached its relationship with the charter schools.

Halau Ku Mana New Century Charter School Principal Brandon Bunag proposed that OHA deliver the funds to the schools directly. “We’re being forced into a relationship” with CNHA, he told the trustees.

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