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Furlough solution might forfeit prep days


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POSTED: Saturday, November 28, 2009

Public school teachers would have to sacrifice their own time for class preparation under Gov. Linda Lingle's proposal to end Furlough Fridays for schools, a key administration official says.

Lingle's plan calls for using $50 million from the state's rainy day fund to reopen schools on Furlough Fridays and for the teachers to convert so-called noninstructional days, when students stay home, to teaching days.

Linda Smith, Lingle's senior adviser for policy, said yesterday that the administration recognizes the importance of preparation days but that teachers would have to use personal time to make up for the loss of noninstructional hours.

Teachers could choose to stay at school to work on lesson plans on a voluntary basis, she said.

“;If they think it's important, and they don't want to go home, that's fine with us,”; Smith said. “;We appreciate that, but we can't pay them any more for it.”;

The conversion of noninstructional hours—time when students are let out early for teachers to conference and prepare lesson plans—has raised concerns among Hawaii State Teachers Association leaders.

“;I don't agree to taking it all away, because that doesn't really help the educational system,”; Dwight Takeno, HSTA interim executive director, said yesterday.

Still, both sides say there is room for negotiation as they prepare for a second meeting Wednesday on the governor's proposal.

“;We believe it's negotiable all the way across,”; Taken said. “;I don't think we can expect her to throw out $50 million and not be willing to compromise on how the $50 million would be used.”;

Before Lingle's proposal last week, many schools had already petitioned the state Board of Education to either switch noninstructional days to instructional days or to change their bell schedule to lengthen the school day.

As of this week, 174 of the state's 283 schools have requested a change to make up for lost class time because of the Furlough Fridays that began in October. The board has approved the requests from 100 schools, and will consider requests from 74 schools at their next meeting Thursday.

After Lingle announced her proposal, the HSTA also raised concerns over the prospect of teachers having to open schools without support staff, because other school employees covered by separate unions already have agreed to furloughs and would not be included in the current plan.

Smith said the administration has been working with the Department of Education to identify support staff workers that could take furloughs on different days, to ensure that employees needed to open schools would be there five days a week.

“;It's not unlike what other Cabinet agencies are doing to maintain services to the public,”; Smith said.

Smith said she also is optimistic that an agreement can be reached based on the first meeting between the two sides this past Tuesday.

“;If they weren't serious about at least considering the plan, we would have had a very short meeting,”; she said. “;From our judgment it was positive, and we would hope that they would keep an open mind toward the goal, which is getting kids back in school.”;

Star-Bulletin reporter Gary T. Kubota contributed to this report.