No alternatives? Really now


POSTED: Thursday, November 12, 2009

Recently, in all the furor surrounding furloughs, some education officials have been quoted as saying that while “;alternatives other than furloughing teachers were considered ... none of them were viable options.”; Really, guys? Really. We can propose at least three ways to restore 11 or more instruction days and/or save money.

First, we can save money and increase instructional days by reducing the use of substitute teachers. On Oct. 30 the Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled that the state Department of Education had deprived substitute teachers of $30 million to $40 million in pay over roughly five years. The DOE has said that it uses approximately a thousand substitute teachers a day (we calculate 1,100 using the numbers involved with the legal suit), roughly 10 percent of our classroom teachers. Based on the old 180-day school year, teachers were absent anywhere from 14 to 18 days.

We know that this number is skewed due to teachers who suffer long-term illnesses or accidents. But we also know from our experience as the parents of two public school students that many of those substitute teacher days are not due to illness or personal reasons but are due to meetings, conferences and training.

All those controllable absences become much more glaring in light of the 17 days lost to furloughs. By cutting the use of substitute teachers in half, we could save $11 million dollars a year or two furlough days. In addition, students would have that many more days with their trained, certified teachers in their classrooms rather than substitutes.

A second reduction in DOE expense could be achieved by furloughing principals, vice principals (and even Complex Area superintendents) during the summer. Four years ago, when the DOE decided to use a year-round school calendar, it also changed the principals' contract from a 10-month to a 12-month contract. To compensate for this change, the DOE gave principals a 24 percent salary increase. This amounts to $6 million a year in additional DOE expenditures.

Now those same principals have to give up 24 work days (five weeks) for furloughs. Why not just furlough them during the summer?

The current DOE budget also shows millions of dollars allocated to convert vice principals from 10-month to 12-month contracts, so all this is true for them as well.

A third way in which to reallocate funds is to stop gorging on testing. While the DOE has decreased instructional time by 9 percent, it has increased standardized testing by more than that. This year the DOE has added online field testing for both the annual Hawaii State Assessments and the quarterly HSAs; algebra II tests; and online field testing in science for grades 4, 8, and 10 and biology students in grades 9, 11 and 12.

Additionally, the Board of Education has estimated that the HSA tests alone cost $25 million to $40 million a year. By cutting back on standardized testing, students would gain more time with their teachers and millions of dollars would be saved.

Altogether, the above proposals would give back 11 or more instructional days and save tens of millions of dollars.

No viable alternatives other than furloughs. ... Really guys? Really.

Wendy and Jim Hoglen live in Kalaheo, Kauai, and are the parents of a 10th-grader at Kauai High School. Their older daughter graduated with the class of 2009.