Hawaii Officials Agree to Reduce Number of Furlough Days

By The Associated Press — December 29, 2009 2 min read

Public school officials and the union that represents teachers announced Monday that they have agreed to reduce the number of furlough days in the current school year.

But Gov. Linda Lingle, who must agree to the plan for it to move forward, rejected it as “not a viable solution.” The governor said she couldn’t agree to a plan that would shorten the school year.

Five of the 10 remaining furlough days would be restored with $35 million from the state’s rainy-day fund, and two teacher planning days will be used for instruction. The three finals days will be scheduled at the end of the school year, so there will be no more furlough Fridays for teachers.

State Board of Education chairman Garrett Toguchi said the board “also agreed to rearrange the 17 furloughs in the next school calendar to minimize disruptions to students, teachers and parents, and to preserve the quality of instruction.”

“The plan is the most reasonable and viable short-term solution to provide a safe and healthy environment for our children and to maintain the quality of instruction they deserve,” Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe said.

Toguchi said he was “hopeful that the Legislature and the governor will support this agreement by approving legislation and releasing the funds needed to operate our schools and return students to the classroom.”

Lingle said the plan would use more than two-thirds of the $50 million offered by the governor from the state’s rainy-day fund to restore only five days of instruction.

“This arrangement is not a credible plan, it is not fiscally responsible and it is not sustainable,” Lingle said in a statement. “We cannot agree to a plan that does not solve the furlough situation and that shortens the school calendar at the expense of children and their families.”

The governor issued her remarks based on details of the plan she had read about in the media. She said she had yet to hear about the plan directly from the teacher’s union, the Department of Education and the Board of Education.

Toguchi said in a statement that he placed a request with the governor’s office to meet with her before the end of the week.

Toguchi and Okabe each noted the agreement increases Hawaii’s chances of receiving $75 million in federal Race to the Top grants.

The tentative agreement was announced last week, 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 reached a new contract in order to help the state reduce its budget deficit. It called for teachers to be furloughed 17 days this school year and another 17 in the next school year, giving Hawaii the shortest school year in the country, at 163 days.

But once the furloughs began on Fridays, parents of Hawaii’s 171,000 public school students began holding rallies and pressing lawmakers to find a way to restore the instructional days.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.