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StarBulletin.com

Furloughs further blasted


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POSTED: Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A top aide to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Hawaii is the only state to furlough teachers and cut instructional days as a budget-cutting move.

“;We think there must be a better solution, whether it's using the rainy day fund, whether it's giving up (teacher) preparation days,”; Assistant Secretary Peter Cunningham said at Niu Valley Middle School in Honolulu. “;I just think that if all the adults get in a room and agree that the No. 1 goal is to solve this, then we'll find a way to do it.”;

Cunningham began a weeklong trip to Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa yesterday to glean ideas and concerns about education reform from school officials, parents and politicians.

He visited two Oahu schools as part of the “;Listening and Learning Tour”; that he, Duncan and other senior aides are conducting in preparation for the reauthorization next year of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The recently approved contract with the Hawaii teachers union permitted 17 furlough days in the current and next school years, reducing instructional days to 163 from 180 per year.

But the accord caused a political uproar, including pointed criticism from Duncan.

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Gov. Linda Lingle recently proposed using $50 million from the state's rainy day fund and having teachers forgo 15 noninstructional planning days to restore the school year to the full 180 days. Her aides, state education officials and representatives of the Hawaii State Teachers Association have been meeting to find a compromise.

Cunningham is to meet with Lingle on Thursday, and will separately huddle with state Department of Education and union officials.

He was escorted around Niu Valley Middle School by U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie. Abercrombie, who plans to run for governor next year, said the next governor should be granted the authority to appoint the state superintendent of education. Moreover, he said the usefulness of the state school board has ended.

“;We've got a kind of rectangular firing squad with the Legislature, the unions, the governor and the Board of Education, and everybody points at everybody else as the culprit or culprits, and meanwhile the students and the parents are left on the sidelines,”; he said.

Cunningham visited Niu Valley in part because it hopes to soon become the first Hawaii public school to become an International Baccalaureate campus. At such schools, students are required to take foreign language, math, sciences, technology and other academic courses every year.

Cunningham also toured Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate School on Oahu's southeastern tip yesterday with U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono.