Published Online: April 27, 2010

Hawaii Gov. Lingle Partially Funds School Days

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle has agreed to partially fund a deal that would restore next year's shortened school year, falling short of the amount needed to get kids back in class.

The Republican governor said she would release $57 million of the $67 million required to pay for next year's portion of an agreement between the teachers union and Board of Education.

The partial funding leaves the state with no consensus to end the nation's shortest public school year, which was reduced by 17 days this school year and next due to budget cuts. Hawaii has 163 instructional days compared to 180 in most states.

Lingle has said the deal between the Hawaii State Teachers Association and Board of Education was too expensive because it brought back all education employees, including those she considered nonessential. Her partial funding proposal reflects the per day spending amount she finds acceptable.

"In the spirit of recognizing that each school knows what is best for their students, I am encouraging schools to make the decision on what personnel they need or do not need to reopen their campuses," Lingle said in a statement Sunday night.

Lawmakers set aside the $67 million in a committee vote late Friday night, providing money to put more than 170,000 students in school. The Legislature is scheduled to hold final votes Wednesday on appropriating the money from a hurricane relief fund.

Lingle also asked teachers to voluntarily return to school without pay for the remaining three furlough days this school year.

"The governor at this point is changing the agreement again," Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe said Monday. "Whatever days you want to fund, those will be the days we will be working."

Both the governor's and the teachers' proposals call for the state to pay the cost of restoring 11 teacher furlough days, and teachers overwhelmingly agreed to give up six of their planning days in a vote last month.

The board, union and legislative spending plan would cost about $6.1 million per day. Lingle is willing to spend $5.2 million per day.

Lingle can stipulate that the money must be stretched to cover all the remaining furlough days, meaning it couldn't be used to restore fewer days at the $6.1 million rate.

The $10 million difference between the amount Lingle is willing to spend and the amount of the teachers agreement would have to be made up through funds taken from the Department of Education's existing budget, said Lingle spokesman Russell Pang.

Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi said it's possible that the budget could be shifted around to provide the extra $10 million, but that may be difficult because of significant shortfalls in a variety of educational areas.

"If the Legislature approves $67 million, I can't see why you wouldn't use all of it," Toguchi told reporters Monday. "We'll take the money, and to the extent possible we'll try to restore all 17 days."

Lingle's statement doesn't mention a condition she had previously sought in reaching a deal.

Lingle wanted a constitutional amendment allowing Hawaii's next governor to appoint the schools superintendent, but the Legislature instead is considering letting voters decide on having the governor appoint the Board of Education.

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