Teachers can't carry budget burden alone


POSTED: Thursday, October 29, 2009

As a public school teacher I am unapologetic about the decision to accept furloughs over layoff or pay cuts.

Let's recap the last year:

» A little over a year ago, the governor demanded all departments in the state submit projected budget cuts of 10, 15 and 20 percent.

» In December, the governor submits the executive budget which includes general fund reduction of $40 million each year and a decrease of 240 positions.

» In May the state Department of Education says it has cut $39 million from its budget due to declining revenues.

» In June, Gov. Linda Lingle threatens to impose three furloughs per month on all state employees including teachers.

“;We don't believe that this is negotiable,”; Lingle said. “;It is not within the contracts. It is something I have an implied right to do.”;

» The Hawaii State Teachers Association, along with other unions, files suit to stop the furlough imposition.

» In July a judge throws out Lingle's plan to furlough state workers. The judge's oral ruling blasts the state for ordering furloughs without first attempting to negotiate the issue with the public worker unions.

» Lingle threatens layoffs if furloughs are not accepted.

» In September, after months of negotiations, HSTA agrees to the two furlough days a month, equal to 17 days a year, instead of the three a month the governor had wanted to impose.

» In October, the public outcry over the furloughs intensifies.

And now, the governor says she has no responsibility for the furloughs, it was the DOE, the Board of Education and the union. She expects us to believe that if she had appointment power over the superintendent, this would never have happened. The truth is, if the governor had appointed the superintendent, we would have had three furlough days a month months ago

As the state imposed more and more cuts on public education, who do you think picked up the slack for lost programs, staff reductions, cuts in materials, supplies, textbooks, etc.? The teachers.

The education of our children cannot rest solely on the shoulders of teachers, nor school staff. The community as a whole needs to pull together and demand our schools be funded.

Teachers' work does not begin when the children enter the classroom. Lessons have to be planned and prepared, materials and supplies acquired and organized, and previous student work assessed and feedback provided. In the education world teachers live in now, collaboration with other professionals is essential to provide for students that require interventions, extra support or expanded lessons (depending on their needs). Parent conferences and student team meetings occur regularly.

Non-instructional days and Wednesday meeting times allow teachers a minimal amount of time to deal with the complexity of demands on them. The teachers' contract provides for recognition of this work. However, it also provides for a method of allowing teachers at individual schools to apply for contract exceptions to allow some of the non-instructional days to be changed to instructional days, and individual schools are doing so. Again, teachers are carrying the burden.

So, yes, I am unapologetic that teachers accepted furloughs over pay cuts or layoffs. In my 30th year of teaching in Hawaii, I have learned that if teachers do not advocate for themselves, they will continue to be taken for granted and expected to take on more and more, and do it with less and less.

Don't get me wrong, I love my work and am committed to provide each and every child with a great public education. I am just no longer so idealistic that I think I can do it alone. I know schools need the financial commitment of all our citizens.

I am encouraged to see the public outcry and hope our policy makers and elected officials get the message loud and clear. We will no longer shortchange our future by shortchanging our children's education. Find the money to put teachers back in the classrooms.


Karolyn Mossman is a teacher in Kula, Maui.