Published Online: December 16, 2009

Hawaii Education Talks Fail; School Closures Go On

Hawaii schools will stay closed on many Fridays after negotiators broke off talks to restore instructional days to the nation's shortest school year.

Educators, the governor's negotiators and the teachers union couldn't reach a deal Wednesday, meaning the 34 furlough days will continue this school year and next.

No further talks are scheduled, and schools will close Friday for their seventh furlough day since October.

"Education in the state of Hawaii has been dealt a horrible blow today," said Jo Curran, a member of the parent group Hawaii Education Matters. "There is nothing to lead us to believe there is much hope left for the children. It's not looking good at all."

Gov. Linda Lingle's administration blamed the Hawaii State Teachers Association for blocking a deal.

"Regrettably, the seven-member HSTA Bargaining Committee continues to stand in the way of over 170,000 children returning to class," according to a statement from Lingle's senior policy adviser, Linda Smith, and Human Resources Development Director Marie Laderta. "The HSTA has failed to seize this opportunity to solve the furlough Friday issue."

Union leaders said they would answer questions later Wednesday.

A substantial state budget shortfall prompted Lingle to cut allocations to the Department of Education earlier this year. During labor contract negotiations with the teachers union, the department and the state Board of Education agreed to furloughs as the best way to cope with the reduced allocations. The new pact, which Lingle agreed to, cut 17 days from the 180-day school year and reduced teacher pay by 8 percent.

Lingle's $50 million proposal would have reduced the pay cut by about 2.8 percent, if teachers gave up planning days in exchange for instructional days. That would have restored the 27 remaining furlough days this school year and next.

The union balked at the idea of giving up planning days or holding a vote of the state's 13,000 members on the governor's plan.

The administration's statement said the union was unwilling to have teachers supervise students during lunch hours on campuses and playgrounds, and the union didn't want teachers to voluntarily participate in after-school activities such as glee club, debate team, robotics or prom night.

The $50 million would have been available from the state's rainy day fund, which both the House and Senate were prepared to raid to restore the school year.

But without an agreement from the union, the governor's office, the Department of Education and Board of Education, the money can't be used.

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