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Lawmakers advocate renegotiating teacher contract to restore cut days


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POSTED: Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A prominent House Democrat joined a group of minority Republicans calling for all sides to return to the bargaining table to restore public school days being cut because of state worker furloughs.

House Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) appealed to the state Department of Education and Hawaii State Teachers Association to reopen the contract recently ratified by 81 percent of the union's members who cast votes.

“;They can go back in, resolve it amongst themselves, and we can wait for that,”; Oshiro said. “;There's no need for a special session. The parties to the contract need to get back in, rewrite the contract, ratify it and take care of the problem.”;

Oshiro was responding to calls by House Republicans at a news conference yesterday.

“;It's just morally wrong that the children of Hawaii should bear the brunt of the current economic crisis,”; said Rep. Corinne Ching (R, Nuuanu-Liliha-Alewa Heights). “;We know that there is a better way.”;

Since Furlough Fridays began Oct. 23, lawmakers, education officials, parents and others have discussed ways to restore the 17 days of classroom instruction in each of the next two years that will be lost due to the new labor contracts.

Gov. Linda Lingle has said she is agreeable to all options, including renegotiations.

The Department of Education echoed that sentiment yesterday.

“;The DOE is willing to return to the bargaining table to discuss viable options to restore instructional days,”; department spokeswoman Sandra Goya said in a written statement.

Last week a special Senate committee formed to examine the issue heard testimony focused on whether lawmakers should go into special session and consider various special-fund raids to restore education funding cuts.

State Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the special committee, said yesterday that renegotiating the HSTA contract is “;an idea that's worth pursuing.”;

“;At this time there could be several paths on the table,”; said Espero (D, Ewa-Honouliuli-Ewa Beach). “;But because of all the stakeholders and everybody's interests, we've yet to come to any consensus. Ultimately, that's what it is going to take.”;

An HSTA official questioned the need to reopen the contract if funds are not secured.

“;It's our understanding that none of the proposed solutions addresses the core problem: insufficient funds and the budgetary cuts imposed on the DOE,”; Dwight Takeno, HSTA interim executive director, said in an e-mailed statement.

Even if the HSTA contract were renegotiated to restore furlough days, schools might be hard pressed to open because other education system employees such as principals, teachers' assistants and custodians belong to the Hawaii Government Employees Association, which ratified a contract that includes an equivalent number of furlough days.