Teachers’ drug tests lack funds
The state denies a request for more than $500,000 to cover the program
STORY SUMMARY »
When state negotiators met with the teachers union earlier this year to discuss a new contract, they refused to leave the table until a drug-testing provision was included.
Follow the money
Education officials are asking the state for $523,723 to test public school teachers for drugs. The breakdown:
» $252,984 for laboratory services and other work
» $235,339 for five new positions to manage the program
» $35,400 for computer equipment and office supplies
Source: Department of Education
They succeeded, but now Gov. Linda Lingle's administration says it will not release a penny to fund the program it fought so hard for.
Education officials have been denied a request for more than $500,000 from the state to conduct the planned random and reasonable-suspicion drug testing. State Budget Director Georgina Kawamura said the Education Department should look into its $2 billion schools budget for the money.
Education officials say they need extra money to drug-test as many as 3,250 teachers, or one in four employees, starting June 30. They plan to ask lawmakers for funding to cover drug-testing expenses so they will not need to pull money from other school programs.
The debate comes as the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii is preparing to challenge the policy in federal court next month. The civil liberties group says more than 200 teachers believe they were forced to agree to the drug testing to get pay raises.
In May, despite resistance from some teachers over the policy, the 13,000-member Hawaii State Teachers Association ratified a nearly $120 million contract awarding them 4 percent raises in the current and next school years.
FULL STORY »
Gov. Linda Lingle's administration is refusing to fund planned drug tests of public school teachers despite fighting to add the program in contract negotiations early this year, at the time arguing it would "help ensure schools are safe."
The administration denied the Education Department's request for more than $500,000 to cover annual, random and reasonable-suspicion drug tests of as many as 3,250 teachers, or one in four employees, starting June 30.
"In their base budget of $2 billion, the (education) department will have to cover it," state Budget Director Georgina Kawamura said yesterday.
The administration's decision shocked education officials who assumed they would get extra money but now fear they might need to pull funds from school programs to check whether teachers are high when they come to campus.
"We were concerned that the money shouldn't be taken out of textbooks and other things," said Roger Takabayashi, Hawaii State Teachers Association president. In May, despite resistance from some teachers about the proposed drug tests, the 13,000-member union ratified a nearly $120 million contract awarding them 4 percent raises in the current and next school years.
Before the vote, when state and union negotiators announced they had reached a deal, Lingle said the proposal "recognizes the dedication and hard work of our teachers" and the impact they have on students' lives.
The drug tests, which were largely proposed in reaction to six drug-related arrests of Education Department employees over seven months, would "help ensure that schools are safe," Lingle added.
The department's supplemental budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year, which includes $48 million for operations and $199.4 million for construction, lists $523,723 to hire five workers and buy computer equipment to conduct the tests. But that item was excluded from the governor's package after review by the state's Department of Budget and Finance.
"While many of your requests have merit and our support, only a limited number of programs and projects can be funded at this time due to the state's financial outlook," Kawamura wrote last month in a letter to education officials and other state departments.
The state budget office also rejected a separate Education Department request for $300,000 to have drug-sniffing dogs visit at least 50 schools each year.
James Brese, the Education Department's chief financial officer, said officials would "have to re-evaluate what our needs would be" to find money for drug tests.
"Just like at home you have to balance your budget, you have to make the cut somewhere, you have to figure out where the money comes from," he said Wednesday in a briefing to the Board of Education. "That will be our Plan B if we do not receive the funding."
School board member Kim Coco Iwamoto said the Education Department should not be forced to pay for the tests.
"She (Lingle) did not fund the resources ... to create some of the guidelines that she actually put into the collective bargaining agreement," Iwamoto said. "Maybe random drug testing is an option in the contract. It may be one of her mandates, but not necessarily ours as the employer."
However, the contract says the teachers union and the school board "shall establish" the program, and education officials are preparing to lobby state lawmakers for money to cover its expenses.
House Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro said his "understanding was that the governor was going to pay" for the tests.
"That's between the governor and the DOE," said Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho). "The governor bargained for it."