Published Online: December 7, 2009

Hawaii Governor Scolds Union on Furlough Talks

The effort to end Hawaii's public school furloughs appeared to hit a snag Friday as Gov. Linda Lingle scolded the teachers union and the union began an advertising campaign aimed at a major component of the governor's plan to halt the furloughs.

Lingle said the Hawaii State Teachers Association is refusing to continue negotiations to eliminate the furloughs until Dec. 15. That would make it difficult to convene a special legislative session before the end of the year and approve a bill to use part of the state's rainy day fund to end furloughs before January, she said.

"We will meet anytime, anyplace, over the weekend, at night," Lingle told reporters at the state Capitol.

She blasted the union ads, which oppose the conversion of non-instructional days into teaching days and which appeared Friday in a Hawaii newspaper and on radio broadcasts.

"I think it's ridiculous at this point in the process to be explaining why we won't go back into the class and teach children," the governor said of the union.

Friday marked the fifth teacher furlough day so far.

The Hawaii school year usually consists of 180 instructional days. But Lingle earlier this year cut state allocations to the Department of Education and all other state agencies because of the state's budget shortfall that is now estimated at $1 billion over the next 19 months.

That led to a new teacher contract that allowed for teachers to be furloughed 17 days this school year and a like number in the next school year. The pact was accepted by the union, state education officials and the governor.

However, the furloughs created a public outcry and criticism from federal officials. Lingle last month proposed to use $50 million from the rainy day fund and convert non-instructional days into teaching days. That would eliminate the furlough days from January through June 2011.

But the loss of non-instructional days has rankled the union. In its newspaper ad, the teachers association noted that teachers have already accepted an 8 percent pay cut, reducing salaries by about $500 a month.

Losing non-instructional days would require teachers to use more personal time to "write lessons, monitor student progress and perform other tasks required by federal and state mandates," the ad states.

In her press conference, Lingle pressed union leaders to allow their members to vote on her proposal — a step legislative leaders have endorsed.

"I think HSTA's leadership doesn't know how their members feel," she said. "I think the teachers deserve a right to vote on this proposal."

Meanwhile, an attorney who had filed a federal lawsuit against the state in an effort to end the teacher furloughs said Friday he will add the teachers union as a target of the suit.

"At this point, everything is being blocked by the teachers union," lawyer Eric Seitz told The Honolulu Advertiser.

And a spokeswoman for Save Our Schools, a parents group that has been pushing to end furloughs, told reporters that tax hikes and moneysaving steps could be part of a broad solution.

"Somebody's got to be brave and take the leadership position on this," said Marguerite Butler Higa.

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