Teaching

Hawaii Braces for Educational Impact of Furloughs

By Katie Ash — September 25, 2009 4 min read
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Hawaii educators are bracing for the instructional damage expected from the state’s budget-driven decision to effectively cut school days from the calendar over the next two years and put thousands of teachers on unpaid furlough for those days.

In order to fill a state education budget hole of $468 million over two years, teachers have agreed to 34 unpaid furlough days. Those on a 10-month schedule will take 17 unpaid days in 2009-10 and another 17 in 2010-11, while year-round teachers will have 21 such furlough days per year built into their schedule, averaging out to a 7.94 percent pay cut for both groups.

The plan, which includes a no-layoff provision, will only affect noncharter school teachers in the 178,000-student statewide district.

“I think everyone’s pretty much in agreement that this is going to negatively affect student learning,” Garrett Toguchi, the chairman of the Hawaii state board of education, said in an interview after the vote. “There’s no way that kind of reduction over a small amount of time can’t have a negative impact.”

Regardless, instituting furloughs instead of layoffs, which would increase class sizes and leave teachers without jobs, is the “lesser of two evils,” said Mr. Toguchi.

The contract was struck last week with the 13,500-member Hawaii State Teachers Association, a state affiliate of the National Education Association, to which all public, noncharter school teachers are required to belong.

“Hawaii’s public schools are facing unprecedented budget cuts over the two years,” said Patricia Hamamoto, the superintendent of Hawaii’s schools, in a video statement to teachers after the contract was ratified. “Furloughs are difficult and will require us to work together as a community to provide alternative learning opportunities and experiences for our students.”

‘The Least Disruption’

Eighty-one percent of the teachers who voted approved the contract. Preliminary data show that about three-fourths of the teachers in Hawaii voted on the contract.

“They agreed to a new contract that cuts their pay by 8 percent because that would cause the least disruption to our schools and allows all licensed tenured teachers to stay on the job in the classroom,” HSTA President Wil Okabe said in a statement.

Hawaii is not the only state to consider furloughs as a response to tightened school budgets. Georgia imposed three statewide furlough days for educators this fiscal year, and individual districts in California, Florida, New Mexico, and South Carolina have enacted furlough days as well. (“Recession Woes Cast Pall as Schools Open,” Aug. 26, 2009.)

One element that sets Hawaii apart in going ahead with its furloughs is that it is one of three states, in addition to South Carolina and Georgia, where teachers are state employees. In other states, school furloughs are handled at the district, rather than the state, level.

And Hawaii’s public schools operate as a single statewide school district. Of its 178,000 students, about 171,000 at 256 schools will be affected by the new contract.

The first furlough day will be Oct. 23, and all subsequent furlough days will fall on Fridays, through May 14. Athletic events and practices, many of which take place on Fridays, will continue as scheduled after 3 p.m.

After-school tutoring and enrichment classes, however, will be cancelled on furlough Fridays. Meal service and transportation will be cancelled on those days as well.

Exploring Child Care

Susan Nakamura, the director of marketing and communications for the YMCA in Honolulu, said the YMCA will be providing child-careservices for families on furlough days.

“We feel it is our mission, especially in times like this, to really assist parents and children to the best that we can,” she said. Details, such as how much the services would cost and where they would be held, are still being worked out, she said.

The Kailua, Hawaii-based Kama’aina Kids, a nonprofit child-care organization that provides services to 10,000 children in the state, is exploring ways to help parents during furlough days, said its vice president and co-founder, Mark S. Nishiyama.

“For some parents, if they don’t have somebody to care for their kids, they can’t work at all,” he said. “We just want to give parents options.”

Sandra Goya, the spokeswoman for the state department of education, said that even with the 17 furlough days, students will still exceed the number of instructional hours required.

Two other education-related unions—the Hawaii GovernmentEmployees Association, which includes principals, vice principals, clerical staff, and education assistants; and the United Public Workers Union, which includes custodial staff and cafeteria workers—are still in negotiations with the state regarding how to deal with budget cuts.

Evaluating Costs

In all, Hawaii’s deficit is projected at $1.1 billion over the next two years. Although education officials are still unable to specify how much money furlough days will save the state, the department of education aims to save about $117 million in labor costs, to make up for a $270 million budget restriction for the 2009-11 biennium imposed on the department by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle. The remaining balance will come from school programs and operations.

Lisa Silva, a parent of an elementary and a high school student in Hawaii, agrees. “No matter what happens, the kids are going to fall behind some,” she said.

Although Ms. Silva already has child care lined up for the days when her children will not be in school, she’ll still be affected by the contract, she said.

“I know that it’s going to be affecting all of us because our salaries are going to be less. Things are going to have to be adjusted, and everything has to be cut back on,” she said. “We just haven’t figured out how it’s all going to be done yet.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 2009 edition of Education Week as Hawaii Braces for Educational Impact of Furloughs

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