Lingle calls for end to school furloughs


POSTED: Monday, November 16, 2009

Gov. Linda Lingle plans to eliminate 27 Furlough Fridays at Hawaii's public schools by tapping the so-called rainy day fund and switching teacher training days to class time.

She said yesterday her plan would restore stability among families and allow the state to focus on quality of education rather than the number of days students are in school.

Under Lingle's plan, furlough days would be restored starting Jan. 1 by using $50 million from the fund, formally the Emergency and Budget Reserve Fund, and converting noninstructional hours to instructional hours, totaling 15 school days. Noninstructional time includes Wednesday afternoons, when students are let out early to allow for staff meetings.

Already the public school system has had three furlough days and will have four more this calendar year. The next one is Friday.

Parents, state legislators and the teachers union praised Lingle's plan, saying it is a step in the right direction.

“;I'm glad that she came around and is making education a high priority,”; said Garrett Toguchi, chairman of the state Board of Education.




THE PLAN calls for turning 15 teacher planning and conference days into instructional time, including Wednesday afternoons, when school now lets out early

THE TEACHERS UNION calls the plan a “;viable option”; that merits a return to the negotiation table


APPROVAL would require a special session of the Legislature




Toguchi had asked Lingle in June to use the Hurricane Relief Fund or rainy day fund to support public education. He said the teachers' contract could have avoided furlough days if the governor had used special funds earlier.

Lingle said part of her decision to change her position and use the rainy day fund came from watching Hawaii debate the issue while she was traveling in China. She said the state needs to refocus on the economy and on creating jobs.

“;Keeping the bigger picture in mind was more important at this point to move us forward as a state,”; she said. “;I was looking for a compromise.”;

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Before Lingle's plan is adopted, the Hawaii State Teachers Association will also have to reopen its contract to discuss using noninstructional days. But teachers would see 2.5 percent of their pay restored because of fewer furlough days, Lingle said.

The current two-year teacher contract has 34 furlough days, which amounts to a 7.9 percent cut in pay.

Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, expressed support yesterday for using the fund. “;If there ever was a rainy day for Hawaii's public education system, this is it. We believe the governor's proposal represents the kind of viable option we said would be necessary for us to return to the negotiating table.”;

The Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers were not available for comment.

Both the state Senate and House will also have to approve use of the fund by a two-thirds majority in a special session.

Lingle said she is willing to call legislators into a special session—a reversal of her previous statement that a special session would be premature—if there is enough support.

State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, Senate president, said the “;probability of success”; had greatly increased with Lingle supporting a special session.

The Senate will caucus this week and could have a decision on whether enough senators support the plan by the end of this week, she said.

State Rep. Chris Lee, who has been organizing for a special session in the House, said there is going to be a lot of debate, but “;at the end of the day, everybody wants to end furloughs.”;