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Unions worry about schools bill


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POSTED: Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hawaii's public school teachers union is fighting a proposal to let Superintendent Pat Hamamoto replace staff at campuses that repeatedly flunk federal education goals, claiming it amounts to “;hanging a sword over teachers' heads.”;

The Hawaii State Teachers Association told joint House education and labor committees yesterday the measure would unfairly blame teachers and administrators for a school's failure under the rigorous No Child Left Behind law.

“;It's not correct to assume that the academic outcome is the result of the school administration and faculty,”; HSTA President Roger Takabayashi wrote in testimony. “;It is the background and needs, as well as the barriers to learning that the student brings,”; that determine whether a school succeeds, he added.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association also objected to House Bill 172, arguing it would “;circumvent”; the union's right to negotiate wages, hours and other conditions for its public school members.

A provision in the bill allowing Hamamoto to overhaul schools “;notwithstanding collective bargaining agreements”; alarmed the unions. Hamamoto emphasized the department would consult with unions to lay out a process to reconstitute failing schools, but lawmakers postponed action on the bill.

After the hearing, House Education Chairman Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades) said he wants the department and unions to agree on the bill's language before a vote is taken.

He said the proposal, scheduled to be heard again Wednesday, would simply give Hamamoto another option to turn schools around.

“;It's no different than if you have a football team and you've got great players but the coaches are not the right fit,”; Takumi said, noting that other factors, such as poor students and those learning English as a second language, create additional challenges.

The measure comes as the number of isle schools being restructured - the harshest penalty of the federal law - rose to 78 from 48 in the past year.

It would allow Hamamoto, with Board of Education approval, to replace workers at schools under restructuring for three years or longer, change membership of school community councils and hand over control of the campus to private companies.

Currently, schools that fail escalating test targets and other requirements of the law such as graduation and retention rates have been getting extra money to improve programs, target instruction in specific areas or work with consultants to raise student achievement.

In the 2007-08 academic year, for example, 46 restructuring schools shared $5 million in state funds to implement reforms.

But 28 state schools have been unable to exit restructuring in three or more years, prompting education officials to consider reconstituting them.

While reconstituting has worked in some places, it can become problematic - and costly - if displaced teachers labeled ineffective sue the state or simply continue working at a different campus, according to the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy.

Takabayashi said it is likely more schools will enter restructuring as an increasing number of students are required to read and solve math problems at grade level.

“;What will the superintendent do then?”; he wrote. “;Once most schools are in restructuring, will the superintendent be shuffling teachers from one restructuring school to another?”;