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Lawmakers still cool to session on schools


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POSTED: Friday, November 06, 2009

House leaders again resisted calls for a special legislative session to deal with public schools, asking instead for a reopening of the state teachers' contract to restore classroom time being lost to furloughs.

After meeting with Democratic House colleagues for almost three hours yesterday, House Speaker Calvin Say said he would prefer to address the matter during the 2010 regular session.

“;At the end of the day, we just decided to have the speaker and maybe (Senate) President (Colleen) Hanabusa draft a letter to the parties to get their act together to go back to the bargaining table on behalf of the students in the state of Hawaii,”; said Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Palolo Valley-Wilhelmina Rise).

Hanabusa said she would consult with her colleagues.

“;The nature of special session is one that requires, at the very minimum, the House and the Senate,”; said Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua). “;If that's the House position, then I have to share that with the caucus.

“;Special session would appear to be moot if, in fact, the House is not going to come forward and entertain it.”;

Say did not close the door completely, saying he would be willing to reconsider his position if a concrete plan was devised that had the support of all involved, including Gov. Linda Lingle.

Hanabusa agreed.

“;I have always felt that the only way we can entertain a special session would be if all the so-called ducks are in order,”; she said.

“;My major concern has been that we do not build false hope and that the general public understands that special session, in and of itself, is not the cure-all.

“;I think it's unfortunate that people have been led to believe that somehow if the Legislature comes into special session, all of this will go away, and that's not the case.”;

A special session would require two-thirds' approval of the House and Senate. So far, 15 of 25 senators and 23 of 51 House members have supported a special session.

Among the House members in support is Rep. Chris Lee, who argued that leaving the discussion until next year would only compound the problem.

“;We have the ability and the power to change what's happening here,”; said Lee (D, Lanikai-Waimanalo). “;We believe it's not something that can wait.”;

While the state Department of Education, Board of Education and Lingle have supported a renegotiation of the contract to restore instructional days lost to labor furloughs, the Hawaii State Teachers Association has resisted, noting that there is no need to reopen the contract if money is not set aside to restore teacher pay.

Additionally, terms would have to be renegotiated for school workers who are part of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, who agreed to a contract with similar furlough considerations.