SCHOOLS: ANTI-DRUG PROGRAM UNDER FIRE
BOE will not fund teacher drug tests
The state Board of Education voted last night not to fund a plan to drug test public school teachers, casting doubts as to whether the program will be able to start by a June 30 deadline required in a new contract.
Board members voted 7-0 to reject a motion calling for some $400,000 to pay for the random and reasonable-suspicion drug tests each year of as many as 3,250 teachers, or one in four employees.
Several board members called the testing "an unfunded mandate" and criticized Gov. Linda Lingle's administration for failing to include money to pay for the testing in her request to the Legislature.
"Let her fund it," said board member Breene Harimoto, who said the program was "offensive."
Lingle has argued that the Department of Education has enough money in its $2 billion-plus budget to fund drug testing.
The state made drug testing of teachers a non-negotiable demand during talks with the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents about 13,000 teachers. Though the program was met with some resistance, 61.3 percent of the more than 8,000 union members voted in May to ratify a nearly $120 million contract giving them 4 percent raises in the current and next school years.
The drug tests were proposed in reaction to six drug-related arrests of Education Department employees over seven months beginning in October 2006.
Before their vote the board heard from two Department of Education employees opposed to the drug tests, saying it would pull away money from educational programs.
"In opposing this random drug-testing policy, some people ask me whether I have something to hide," said Tony Turbeville, a math teacher at Kawananakoa Middle School. "I tell them that I have nothing to hide but I do have something to protect: my constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches. I am a teacher. I have a duty to teach my students that they have to stand up for their rights."
The American Civil Liberties Union also is threatening to sue the state if the program moves forward, claiming it would violate teachers' privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment. The ACLU says more than 200 teachers feel they were forced to agree to drug testing to get a pay hike.
"The courts have all held that it would not be legal," said Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU's drug law reform project.
Board members could still revisit the funding of the drug tests in future meetings, said Chairwoman Donna Ikeda.
"But I'm firm on it," she said about her vote.