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Millions Offered if Hawaii Leaders Reopen Schools

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As more school days slip away, Hawaii lawmakers are offering millions of dollars to end the nation's shortest school year.

The catch: The money can be used only if the teachers union and governor reach a deal to put the state's 171,000 public school students back in class for six remaining teacher furlough days this school year and 17 next school year.

The Hawaii Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would make $86 million available to resolve stalled negotiations between Gov. Linda Lingle, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state Board of Education. The money would go toward restoring teacher pay, which was cut by 8 percent along with the school year through a union contract ratified in October.

"This continuing episode continues to bring shame on us as a state, as well as punishes our children by making them inadvertent casualties to our economic woes," said Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, D-Downtown-Waikiki.

The money, which would be taken from savings in the state's Hurricane Relief Fund, would be held out as an incentive for all sides to come to terms after schools have already closed on 11 Fridays so far this school year.

The bill passed on a party-line vote, with 23 Democrats supporting it and two Republicans in opposition.

"All we're doing is throwing money at a problem that has brought us national and international shame," said Sen. Sam Slom, R-Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai.

Hawaii cut school days to 163 a year to help the state reduce its budget deficit. Most states have 180 school days.

Talks to restore class time grew contentious last week when Lingle said union leaders "care more about money than educating Hawaii's children" after they filed a complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board saying the Republican governor hadn't bargained in good faith.

The $86 million is more than was previously offered to teachers in proposals from Lingle and the union, who remain far apart after sporadic negotiations that started in October.

Lingle has proposed spending $50 million and asking teachers to convert planning days to instructional days to restore all remaining furlough days this school year and next.

The union claimed the money fell far short of what was needed. Along with the Board of Education, the union suggested spending $35 million to cover only this year's remaining furlough days.

The measure now advances to the state House of Representatives for further consideration.

"Let's move this out quickly so that there's no excuses for why we can't solve this problem," said Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, D-Kalihi Valley-Halawa.

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