Teachers and ACLU warn the governor
Educators dispute that pay raises are tied to drug testing
A group of public school teachers called on Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday to retract her statement that implied that there will be no teacher pay raises if mandatory drug testing is not implemented.
American Civil Liberty Union officials joined teachers in delivering a letter to the Governor's Office that said Lingle was "legally inaccurate" in a statement after a Jan. 24 Board of Education vote against funding the drug testing. The testing was included in the contract signed last year.
"One side cannot breach a contract, then make the other side pay for it," said Richard Miller, retired professor and former dean of the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law. "There is no basis for taking away their raises simply because there is an argument between the Board of Education and the administration."
Lingle was not in her office when the letter was delivered. "She never made a statement that the pay raise would be withheld," said her spokesman Russell Pang. "What she said was the drug-testing provision is part of the contract and needs to be implemented."
Lingle told reporters at a Jan. 25 press conference, "We cannot effectuate this contract unless the conditions are carried out," referring to the drug program that state negotiators added as a non-negotiable item in bargaining talks.
A majority of teachers ratified the contract that provided 4 percent in pay increases during two years.
The ACLU is representing some teachers who challenge the constitutionality of random mandatory drug tests.
"The Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches of our person," said Tony Turbeville, a seventh-grade teacher at Kawananakoa Middle School. "Random testing is an assault on our fundamental constitutional rights. Open this door and we may never be able to shut it."
For teachers to be targeted for drug testing "is humiliating and degrading and extremely disrespectful," said Debbie Shirai, a sixth-grade teacher at Keonepoko Elementary School on the Big Island.
The letter to the governor said: "You are legally forbidden from claiming that a disputed portion of the agreement renders it entirely invalid.
"If the Board of Education or any other state entity blocks funding for teacher drug testing, the rest of the contract, including your promise to pay teachers' salaries, remains in full force."
ACLU Executive Director Vanessa Chong said more than 200 teachers have contacted the agency about challenging the drug-testing requirement in court.
The Board of Education unanimously rejected a Department of Education supplemental budget request to seek $523,723 from the Legislature to hire five workers and buy computer equipment for the drug program. Officials have said the cost of conducting tests will be at least double that amount.
"The ACLU continues to say it is a poor use of taxpayers' dollars when we are crying out to improve our classrooms, buy supplies, and scratching our heads to where the next generation of teachers will come from," Chong said.
Pang said, "We are waiting for the Thursday BOE meeting, when they said they will revisit the issue."