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Lingle Aide Dismisses Teacher Union Furlough Vote

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A top aide to Gov. Linda Lingle on Thursday dismissed an overwhelming vote by the state teachers union to accept an agreement to end school furloughs.

Lingle has signaled for several days she would not abide by an accord reached by the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state Board of Education that aims to eliminate the remaining 21 furlough days in the current and next school years.

But the statement released Thursday by the governor's senior policy adviser, Linda Smith, was the administration's first public reaction to the teachers' approval of the agreement on Wednesday with 84 percent of the vote.

"It's unfortunate that the union leaders put the teachers in a position to vote on a plan that they know will not be implemented," Smith said.

While Lingle is not formally required to sign off on the union-school board pact, she does have the authority to withhold state money that is required to finance it.

In response to Smith's comments, school board Chairman Garrett Toguchi said the panel will continue to press the Legislature to appropriate the funds necessary to implement the agreement.

"We have an agreement, and as in any point in time, the governor will always have the authority to exercise release or restriction of funds," he said in a statement. "We urge anyone who wants their child back in school to call on our legislators and the governor to support education."

A state budget shortage led Lingle last year to cut allocations to the school system, which then led to a new labor contract with teachers that closed schools for 17 days in the current school year and 17 more next year. That reduced Hawaii's school year to 163 days, the fewest in the nation.

There are four remaining furlough days this school year.

The $92 million agreement envisions teachers holding classes on six of their non-instructional planning days. It also would end furloughs for all school employees.

Its cost could be covered by general fund money or savings held in two special state accounts, the rainy day and hurricane relief funds.

Lingle has floated her own plan that would cost $62 million because it would retain furloughs for so-called "nonessential" workers — described by Smith as those "who sit behind desks" at the Department of Education headquarters or in other administrative offices.

"Bringing back employees that the Department of Education considers to be nonessential is unnecessary and something that we simply cannot afford," she said.

Meanwhile, Hawaii legislators late Wednesday agreed to hand over money to finance an end to teacher furlough days, but only if Lingle and the teachers union reach a deal by April 12.

The House Finance Committee approved a bill appropriating an undetermined amount of money from the hurricane fund.

The money could go toward funding the teachers-school board pact. But committee Chairman Marcus Oshiro, D-Wahiawa-Poamoho, said he won't commit the money until Lingle agrees to spend it.

Otherwise, the money could be used for other pressing needs as the state deals with a large budget deficit, he said.

Oshiro on Thursday suggested that a mediator be brought in to negotiate a resolution. But Toguchi pooh-poohed the notion.

"That time has passed," Toguchi said. He similarly dismissed Lingle's insistence that the Legislature approve and send to voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would give a governor the authority to appoint the state school superintendent.

"It is unfortunate that this administration has tied children's education to the fate of a piece of legislation," Toguchi added.

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