Furlough plan change praised


POSTED: Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Political leaders are supporting Gov. Linda Lingle's proposal to end Furlough Fridays next year by changing the public school teachers' labor contract and raiding the state rainy day fund.

House Speaker Rep. Calvin Say praised the governor's move, noting that it was in line with his suggestion of Nov. 6, urging Lingle and the union to reopen the contract.

Lingle has said she is willing to call the Legislature into a special session as soon as House and Senate leaders can agree to a plan that would use the rainy day fund to pay teachers.

“;Education is one of the priorities of the state, and restoring instructional days is a priority,”; Say said.

Hawaii has received international bad press for having the least number of teaching school days of any state, and Say noted that it attracted the attention of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Say speculated that the black eye was part of the reason for Lingle moving, although in a weekend news conference Lingle said she thought Duncan was meddling in local politics.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a candidate for governor, said he lobbied Duncan to comment.

“;I felt it was important for him to give a frank assessment of Hawaii's ability to access federal funds if we continued on this path,”; Abercrombie said in a campaign note to supporters.

State Senate Democrats are expected to discuss the proposal at their Thursday caucus, and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa is expected to meet with Lingle on Friday.

Speaker Say told reporters yesterday that if Lingle, the unions and school officials can agree to the details of a plan, “;I will do my utmost to have the House consider the proposal expeditiously.”;

;[Preview]  Lingle Plans to Save Schools From Furlough Fridays

Lingle's plan offers schools more money, but solving the furlough puzzle is not easy.

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Even before Lingle's action, Democrats had been lobbying to convene to use state special funds to restore furlough days. Two-thirds of each chamber is required to convene a special session.

“;There is a contingent of representatives that are in favor of doing something,”; said Rep. Della Au Belatti (D, Makiki-Tantalus), who said 23 Democrats (34 representatives are needed for a special session) had already signed a petition calling for a special session.

Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Honouliuli) said 15 of 17 senators needed for a special session had also signed a similar petition.

The framework for a deal could be complicated. So far, Lingle's proposal to open the schools on Fridays in 2010 involves only the Hawaii State Teachers Association, but Hawaii Government Employees Association represents other school officials, including coaches, principals and vice principals. Their new labor agreement still calls for them to be furloughed.

Late yesterday the HGEA sent a message to its members saying that they are awaiting word from Lingle.

“;Although the governor has unveiled her plan publicly through the news media, the HGEA has not received any proposal from her or her representatives,”; the union said. “;Until we are provided with information, we are unable to know how our members in the state DOE would be affected.”;