Groups want special session to cancel Furlough Fridays


POSTED: Wednesday, November 04, 2009

With House Democrats set to caucus tomorrow, parent groups are peppering legislators with phone calls pushing for a special session to restore funding for education and stop Furlough Fridays at public schools.

“;We want the schools open, that's the first priority,”; said Marguerite Butler Higa, a spokeswoman for Save Our Schools Hawaii who has a third-grader at Noelani Elementary. “;We can't wait until next year to solve this crisis, because it really is a crisis.”;

Her group is the latest to spring up in opposition to the state's decision to shutter public schools for 17 days this year to help balance the state budget. Hawaii Education Matters has also called for a special legislative session, saying that most people now agree that Furlough Fridays are a bad idea.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge David Ezra, a court-appointed special master, is trying to mediate an out-of-court settlement of two federal lawsuits filed to block Furlough Fridays. He is meeting this week with parties to the suits as well as representatives of the teachers union and the Hawaii Government Employees Association, according to a court spokeswoman.




Public schools requesting to restore instructional days


Star-Bulletin staff

        More than 100 of the state's 256 regular public schools have filed requests to restore instructional time by canceling teacher planning days or adjusting their class schedules in response to Furlough Fridays.

Most schools are asking to convert one to three planning or waiver days back to instructional days, according to Jill Zodrow, School Commun-ity Council educational specialist. Although schools may take as many as six such days annually, many campuses have already used some of them.


Just a handful of schools are hoping to salvage from four to six days for instruction, Zodrow said. The school system is planning to shut down for 17 days this academic year, amounting to a 7.9 percent pay cut for teachers, in an effort to balance the budget.


The Board of Education will consider 100 requests for calendar changes at its meeting tomorrow, 95 of them to restore instructional days and five to make changes to class schedules. But more requests have been submitted in recent days, and those will be reviewed at the board's December meeting.


The deadline for schools to request calendar changes has been extended to Nov. 13.


Charter schools are not having Furlough Fridays.




The next court hearing on the suits will be at 10 a.m. Monday in U.S. District Court before visiting Judge Wallace Tashima of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ezra stepped down as a judge on the cases to allow himself freedom to work on a settlement.

All other federal judges in Hawaii had a connection with the public schools and had recused themselves from hearing the case.

The House majority will meet tomorrow to discuss Furlough Fridays, labor contracts and the state's financial condition, according to spokeswoman Georgette Deemer. It takes two-thirds of both chambers of the Legislature to call a special session.

So far, 21 of 51 House members, or 42 percent, have signed the petition to hold a special session to deal with education, Rep. Chris Lee (D, Lanikai-Waimanalo) said yesterday.

“;Waiting for the 2010 legislative session will not address the mounting losses in our schools until the end of the session next summer, after our kids have already lost out on all their school days,”; Lee said. “;It's inspiring to see people setting politics and excuses aside to put our kids first and take action to get our students and teachers back in the classroom.”;

In the Senate, 15 of 25 senators, or 60 percent, have signed to support a special session, and Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa-Kapolei-Ewa Beach) said yesterday that other “;legislators are willing to commit to a special session if there's an agreed-upon plan that everyone can live with.”;

Espero, vice chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Education Funding, said senators are drafting bills to see what solutions would generate broad support.

“;The bills would be to make this current school year whole,”; Espero said. “;Then it is imperative upon the Legislature and governor to come up with a plan and deal with the total picture next session dealing with all of the issues, not just education.”;

Gov. Linda Lingle says she regrets signing off on Furlough Fridays for public schools but opposes calling a special session. Russell Pang, chief of media relations for the governor, said yesterday she believes it is too soon to take action because “;we're only three months into the fiscal year, so we need to get a broader picture of how the fiscal year is shaping up.”;

In addition to making phone calls to push for a special session, Hawaii Education Matters is meeting this week with Superintendent Pat Hamamoto and Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe, as well as Lingle staff members.

“;We're going to ask them what we can do as parents to help bring long-term solutions for our children's education,”; said Jo Curran, spokeswoman for the group.


On the net:

» www.sos808.org
» www.hawaiieducationmatters.org