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HSTA is accused of blocking deal


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POSTED: Saturday, December 05, 2009

Both the governor and an attorney who filed a lawsuit seeking to end Furlough Fridays are blaming the Hawaii State Teachers Association for blocking a deal that would restore lost public school days.

“;The only obstacle at this point is the teachers union,”; attorney Eric Seitz said yesterday at a press conference. “;The public needs to know and teachers need to know how badly the teachers union is acting in this matter.”;

Seitz said he plans to add the HSTA as a defendant in a class-action lawsuit seeking to end Furlough Fridays.

Meanwhile, Gov. Linda Lingle called on the union to continue bargaining next week or put her proposal to end the furloughs up for a vote.

HSTA President Wil Okabe countered that it is the Governor's Office that has dug in its heels.

“;The governor and her team have shown no flexibility and have adopted a take-it-or-leave-it approach,”; Okabe said in an e-mail statement. “;The HSTA has made viable offers to provide an interim solution, but they have all been summarily rejected by the governor.”;

Okabe said the governor's proposal would force schools to operate with a skeleton staff, without administrators, health aides, security and others.

“;We will not return on furlough days if it means that the quality of instruction will (be) severely degraded or the health and safety of our students will be put at risk, all of which would be the case under the governor's proposal,”; Okabe said.

The state and the union met Wednesday and Thursday with no resolution, and the HSTA says it is unable to return for talks until Dec. 15 because of scheduling conflicts.

Lingle accused the union of being unwilling to try to resolve the matter.

“;Our staff is standing by. We're able to meet any time,”; Lingle said yesterday at a news conference in her office. “;There's videoconferencing, there are telephones — with the technology today, I don't think there's any reason to put this off, other than an unwillingness to do it.”;

Okabe accused the governor of flip-flopping, noting that she “;signed the contract with much fanfare”; when it was ratified by the union.

“;Only when she saw how angry the public was at the furloughs, which have been her preferred solution to dealing with state labor contracts, did she begin singing a different tune,”; he said.

Lingle has proposed using $50 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund and converting noninstructional days to regular school days as ways to restore classroom time for students.

The union says that 15 annual noninstructional days — time when students are out of class to allow teacher preparation — are essential for teachers to perform their jobs.

;[Preview]    Lingle says it might be too late to end Furlough Friday
  ;[Preview]
 
 

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“;Teachers have already gone the extra mile to restore instructional days,”; Okabe said. “;Our negotiated and ratified contract already provides a mechanism that allows teachers to request that their workdays be changed to instructional days.”;

Lingle called on union leadership to let members vote on whether they like her plan.

“;We have a fair offer on the table,”; Lingle said. “;It's doable. It puts the kids back in the classroom when January rolls around, through the entire rest of the contract period.

“;I just think it's a commonsense solution that the community is behind — everybody wants to have it happen — and you just have a small group unwilling to let people vote on this.”;

Lingle also criticized a new ad campaign by the HSTA that explains why noninstructional days are needed.

“;I think that's ridiculous, at this point in the process, to be explaining why we won't go back into class and teach children,”; she said. “;To spend their members' money now, running these commercials, that's going to bring further ridicule on their members.”;

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Star-Bulletin reporter Rob Shikina contributed to this story.