Published Online: December 30, 2009

Teachers' Union: Hawaii Gov. Blocking Furlough Deal

Hawaii's teacher labor union said Tuesday there's not much of a chance of partially restoring the state's shortest-in-the-nation school year without Gov. Linda Lingle's support.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe said the Republican governor's "all or nothing approach" to regaining 10 furlough days this year and 17 next year is hindering efforts to return the state's 171,000 students to class.

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See other stories on education issues in Hawaii. See data on Hawaii's public school system.

"The governor's pattern of unilateralism — from insisting on an all or nothing approach that compromises student safety and teachers' ability to effectively teach, to walking out on discussions, and yesterday's decision to summarily shoot down a viable solution to eliminate furlough Fridays — is a cruel blow to students, teachers and their families," Okabe said in a statement.

Lingle had said Monday that she couldn't back an agreement between the union and public school officials to resume school on some, but not all, of the teacher furlough days.

The agreement called for restoring seven of the 10 remaining furlough days this school year by using $35 million in rainy day fund money. The money would have directly paid for five school days, and the union would have agreed to replace the other two days by converting teacher workdays. The plan didn't address next school year's furlough days.

Lingle wanted to leverage $50 million from the fund to end all 27 furlough days. She tried to stretch the $50 million so that it would restore 12 furlough days if teachers would agree to teach on 15 planning or other noninstructional days.

The governor said the union's proposal didn't get enough bang for the taxpayers' buck.

"This arrangement is not a credible plan, it is not fiscally responsible and it is not sustainable," Lingle said.

Unless Lingle, the union and Board of Education can all agree on a plan, legislators won't spend the money, said House Speaker Calvin Say.

"The House would be willing to consider a special session if all parties agree to a tentative agreement," said Say, D-St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise.

Even if Hawaii's overwhelmingly Democratic legislature voted to use the money, Lingle still has the power to withhold spending it.

Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi said he will meet with Lingle's education negotiators Wednesday.

"The board and I remain committed to bringing students back to the classroom for as many days as possible," he said. "Failure is not an option when something as important as the education of Hawaii's children is at stake."

The agreement that Lingle is rejecting was reached after two months of political pressure by angry parents, state education officials and the teachers union.

In mid-October, the teachers and the Department of Education agreed to a new contract to help the state reduce its budget deficit. It called for 17 furlough days this school year and next, giving Hawaii the shortest school year in the country, at 163 days.

The furlough days amounted to an 8 percent pay cut for teachers.

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