Deals could snarl school staffing


POSTED: Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hawaii public schools are expected to remain open even when teachers and students are home because of furloughs.

Unless a contract agreement can be reached for roughly 5,700 public employees who work as principals, vice principals, secretaries, custodians, teacher's assistants and other support staff jobs, they will be required to report to work as usual on teacher furlough days.

Those workers are represented by the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers, whose contract talks with the state have stalled.

“;It's not the most desirable choice,”; said state schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto. “;It's not our first choice. However, the reality is that there is no settlement with HGEA and UPW. Therefore, their employees will continue to report to work.”;

The new two-year contract ratified by the Hawaii State Teachers Association calls for 17 furlough days in each of the next two years, with classes for students canceled on those days. The first furlough day is scheduled for Oct. 23.

Unless the other two unions can work out similar pacts, schools will be faced with the prospect of having to stay open with no students.

Keeping the schools open costs the state about $323 million—the general fund appropriation for the 2009-10 school year for overhead costs such as equipment, supplies, transportation, electricity and other costs, according to the Department of Education.

A similar situation could face the University of Hawaii if the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly agrees to furlough days in its contract that is being negotiated.

Randy Perreira, executive director for HGEA, said the logistical problem posed by furloughs was one reason the unions had originally sought a global contract agreement, with similar terms for all unions.

“;The operational issues that can be created are problematic at best,”; he said.

Talks on a global settlement broke down over the summer.

HSTA was the first union to reach an agreement with the state, while HGEA has since gone to arbitration, with a decision expected by December unless the two sides settle before then.

Perreira noted that Gov. Linda Lingle is seeking up to three furlough days a month from HGEA and UPW workers.

In some months of the new school calendar, that would amount to one furlough day more than teachers, leaving open the possibility that teachers and students might have to report to school with no support staff.

“;I don't think the teachers are in the position to be conducting classes and running the school at the same time,”; Perreira said. “;I don't know how the DOE would plan to get around that.”;

Hamamoto also acknowledged the possibility.

“;We would work very hard to ensure that that doesn't happen,”; she said. “;Our work would be to see that we can get our calendars aligned.”;

Perreira said he expects to be able to work out an agreement with the department.

“;Certainly I think there are ways to address it,”; he said. “;We'll just have to see how they would suggest they want to do things.”;