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Possible candidates put forth furlough options


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POSTED: Sunday, November 01, 2009

With public anger rising over teacher furloughs in Hawaii, two of the four expected candidates for governor next year offered ways that the controversial money-saving program could be halted or reduced.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie told the Associated Press in an interview this week that a recently signed labor contract for teachers could be reopened. The new agreement calls on teachers to take 17 unpaid days off in the current school year and 17 days next school year.

Federal economic stimulus money also could be redirected to help eliminate or reduce the furloughs even if the Legislature and the governor have already accounted for those dollars in the state budget, Abercrombie added.

“;Well, then, get together and unaccount for it,”; he said, adding that parents are uninterested in the limitations of the budget process. “;The plain fact is that they are going to have to find money ... or reallocate funds with the premise that you keep the schools open.”;

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Republican attorney John Carroll said he would reduce staffing in the top echelons of the state Department of Education, which he insisted would free enough money to eliminate some or all of the remaining teacher furloughs.

“;Layoffs would come in the office of the superintendent and the assistant superintendent,”; Carroll, a former state legislator, said in a separate interview with the AP. “;I certainly would not be cutting teacher pay (or) furloughing teachers.”;

Furloughs will continue on nearly every subsequent Friday through mid-May. The furloughs are intended to help the state address a budget shortfall estimated at $1 billion or more over the next 20 months.

Of the four likely contenders, Abercrombie has been the most vocal recently as several parents filed two federal lawsuits to halt the furloughs and hundreds of furlough opponents rallied outside the state Capitol.

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“;It's clear to me that everybody would like to restart this decision,”; he said, noting that Gov. Linda Lingle last week expressed regret for signing off on the new teacher contract.

Some school board members are meeting with unidentified “;state officials”; to work out a solution, said school board spokesman Alex Da Silva. Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto is not currently engaged in talks, said spokeswoman Sandra Goya.

Linda Smith, a top Lingle adviser, said she is unaware of any federal stimulus money for Hawaii that is not already budgeted for specific purposes.

On the issue of teacher furloughs, Carroll said he would invoke a Hawaii law that allows a governor to lay off state employees due to a “;lack of work or other legitimate reason.”; He acknowledged that might run afoul of constitutionally mandated independence of the school board and DOE.

Carroll said he has long believed the state's centralized school bureaucracy should be reduced. “;The state-run system has been a total failure,”; he said.

Two other likely candidates, Republican Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona and Democratic Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, declined requests to be interviewed on teacher furloughs.