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Furlough Fight Continues

Officials from the Department of Education (DOE) and Governor Linda Lingle’s office failed to reach their goal of creating a new furlough schedule before Hawaii’s public schools reopened this week.

A compromise between the two parties and the main teachers’ union – the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) – looked possible towards the end of December. The HSTA and representatives from the Board of Education (BOE) reached an agreement on Dec. 28 to reduce the number of furlough days remaining in this school year.

“This settlement ensures that there will be no furlough Fridays for the remainder of the current school year,” said BOE Chairman Garret Toguchi in a statement released the day of the meeting.

Had it passed, the new plan would have removed all ten furlough Fridays for this school year — five by using $35 million from the state’s “Rainy Day” fund and an additional two classroom days that were originally planning days for teachers would be restored. The three remaining furloughs were moved to the last three days of the year.

The agreement did very little to address the 17 scheduled furloughs that await the teachers in the 2010-11 school year. According to BOE spokesman Alex Da Silva, the group said they would simply reschedule the days in blocks around vacation time to cause less disruption of schools’ weekly schedules.

“This latest plan is by no means the optimal solution,” Toguchi said. “But it is important to note that it relies on significantly less Rainy Day funds, adequately staffs schools, eliminates furlough Fridays in the current school year and rearranges furloughs next academic year to minimize disruption to teaching.”

Shot Down
Optimism faded the following day when Gov. Lingle announced that she was completely opposed to the compromise. The governor’s approval is not technically needed for the teacher agreement, but she would need to approve any use of Rainy Day money. The Rainy Day Fund, which holds roughly $60 million, is money reserved by the state to give to any of its branches in an emergency.

Lingle said she did not approve of the new plan because it did not meet her original goal of restoring all 27 remaining furlough days.

“This arrangement is not a credible plan, it is not fiscally responsible and it is not sustainable,” Lingle said.

In November, Lingle proposed a plan that would eliminate all 27 furloughs by using $50 million from the Rainy Day Fund. However, BOE members and the HSTA opposed that plan because it required the teachers to give up 15 planning days for classroom days. They also claimed $50 million would not be enough to pay for the schools’ operating costs for 12 days, as Lingle’s plan said it would.

The difference in cost is because Lingle’s plan only restored salaries for “essential” teachers. That money would not cover school staff such as health aides, educational assistants, office staff, security guards or cafeteria workers.

“All teachers are essential teachers. That is a very big stumbling block — trying to pit one group of teachers against another,” said HSTA president Wil Okabe.

Members of the BOE and HSTA were afraid Lingle’s plan would require laying off up to 2,500 school employees in the future in order to cover the extra costs.

A Reason to Rush

Last Thursday Toguchi and Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto – who has since resigned for reasons not having to do with the furlough situation –  met with some of Lingle’s top advisors to explain the new plan and try to persuade the governor to rethink her position. The meeting was productive according to all present, but no compromise was made.

“This, again, was an informational meeting for us to understand better the details of what the proposal was,” said Senior Policy Advisor Linda Smith following Thursday’s meeting. “We continue to be disappointed in terms of not having the furlough situation corrected.”

All parties wanted to reach an agreement by the start of this week. One of the two instructional days that HSTA offered to give up was scheduled for Monday, Jan. 4. However, as of Monday morning no progress had been made and no future meeting had been scheduled.


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