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StarBulletin.com

Furlough case to be heard sooner


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POSTED: Friday, October 30, 2009

Two lawsuits seeking to stop Furlough Fridays at public schools will be heard two days earlier than planned next week in U.S. District Court.

The hearing will be at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, three days ahead of the third Furlough Friday. Last week, U.S. District Judge David Ezra declined to stop the furlough of public school teachers because the hearing was one day before the first Furlough Friday, making it too short a notice to recall teachers.

Ezra's staff said yesterday that the court date was changed to accommodate the schedule of one of the attorneys, who had a conflict on Nov. 5.

One suit represents nine students with autism. The other represents both regular and special-education students.

Hawaii schools will be closed for the second time today because of the unpaid furlough days for teachers. Members of the teachers union agreed to 34 furlough days over the next two academic years—equivalent to an 8 percent annual wage cut—to help the state balance its budget.

The Department of Education says if the court blocks the furloughs, there could be layoffs of a “;couple”; thousand or more employees to make up for the lost savings.

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“;The layoffs would center on probationary teachers, administrators and others,”; said Sandy Goya, department spokeswoman. “;Tenured and special-education teachers would not be laid off.”;

The department has 22,000 employees, of which 13,000 are teachers in its 256 schools.

Hawaii State Teachers Association Interim Executive Director Dwight Takeno said in a statement that during negotiations furloughs were the least harmful option for saving the department money.

“;The real alternative to resolve these furlough days is to take action to restore the tremendous cuts imposed on the education budget,”; he said.

Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said if the judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs, then the department would need to make up about $60 million.

“;There's not many options left,”; she said.

Avenues for saving that amount include cutting programs, asking employees to take more pay reductions, and layoffs.

Hamamoto said neither furloughs nor layoffs are the preferred solution to the department's budget shortfall, which is about $470 million for the next two years.

“;Anything that compromises the kids is not preferable,”; Hamamoto said. “;It's between a rock and a rock.”;

She said if there are layoffs, the department would try to avoid laying off teachers who serve at the core of the department's educational mission.