Proposals raid funds for more school


POSTED: Thursday, November 05, 2009

Proposals floating in the Senate would restore public school days lost to teacher furloughs by raiding the $180 million Hurricane Relief Fund or a combination of the disaster fund and federal stimulus dollars.

Two measures in draft form are being reviewed by Senate members as they consider a special session to find additional money for schools, said Sen. Will Espero, chairman of a special Senate committee studying various options to teacher furloughs.

The committee has scheduled an informational briefing for Monday to hear from state education officials on whether federal stimulus dollars are available to help restore the 17 school days in each of the next two years that will be lost to labor furloughs.

About $5 million would be needed to restore each furlough day, he said.

There remains no consensus among lawmakers as to the best course of action, said Espero (D, Ewa-Honouliuli-Ewa Beach).

“;We need to ramp up really soon,”; he added.






        A look at how much a five-day special legislative session is expected to cost taxpayers. Funds from the Legislature's general operating budget cover per diem for lawmakers and airfare for neighbor island legislators. Two round trips are allowed during a five-day session.

        » Oahu lawmakers (18 Senate, 35 House): $10/day. Total: $2,650.
        » Neighbor island lawmakers (seven Senate, 16 house): $120/day. Total: $13,800.


        Estimated at $175/round trip
        » Senate (seven members): $2,450.
        » House (16 members): $5,600.
        » Total for five-day session: $24,500.
        Source: Senate Majority Office


Meanwhile, House Democrats are set to meet today to discuss whether there is support for a special session.

The caucus will begin with a briefing by the Department of Budget and Finance to give members a better understanding of the state's revenue picture as lawmakers head into the 2010 regular session, said Majority Leader Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa).

“;Once members see the daunting task that lies before us in January, perhaps there might be a bit more hesitation,”; Oshiro said.

So far, 21 of 51 House members are said to be supportive of a special session — 13 members short of the two-thirds that would be needed.

House leaders including Speaker Calvin Say and Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro have expressed little support. Gov. Linda Lingle also says a special session would be premature.

Espero has lined up support from 15 of 25 senators, two short of the threshold.

A five-day special session would cost taxpayers an estimated $24,500.

The money, from the Legislature's operating budget, would cover per diem for lawmakers and up to two round-trip airfares for neighbor island legislators.

Supporters of a special session say the cost is minimal when compared to what schoolchildren are losing by being out of the classroom.

“;We're talking peanuts here,”; said Marguerite Butler Higa, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Save Our Schools. “;Do they realize that parents are literally losing sleep over this issue? Everyone I talk to thinks it's just horrible and it's a horrible crime against children.”;

Save Our Schools yesterday called on Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona to take action to try to call the Legislature into session. Aiona is acting governor while Lingle is on a two-week tour of China to promote tourism and business relations.

“;What we're looking for is some leadership here,”; Higa said. “;We're looking for the leaders to solve the problem.”;

Aiona, a father of four, said he understands the frustration of parents, but said a special session would not be prudent now. He urged the parties to the Hawaii State Teachers Association contract to return to the bargaining table to renegotiate to restore furlough days.

“;Instead of a special session, everyone should be focused on the immediate and fiscally responsible solutions currently available to restore instructional time for our children,”; Aiona said in a written statement.