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Frustration and anger fuel parents' open plea to leaders


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POSTED: Monday, December 14, 2009

Dear Gov. Linda Lingle, HSTA President Wil Okabe, Superintendent Pat Hamamoto, and School Board Chairman Garrett Toguchi:

On Oct. 23, we began a journey that started at the Capitol and wove a path through each of your offices, the House, the Senate, national radio shows, television and international press. We, a nonpartisan group of concerned parents, started our journey because you, Gov. Lingle, told us you had been waiting to meet parents willing to step up and get involved.

We continued down our path through the office of the Department of Education, where you, Superintendent Hamamoto, told us we had a very workable plan. We kept pressing forward because you, President Okabe, confirmed that with our plan, you would be willing to work toward ending Furlough Fridays.

Now, as we head into our sixth Furlough Friday, we are frustrated and angered by the fact that there is yet no resolution to the crisis.

We accept that the current economy is no one's fault and it is both unfair and unproductive to attempt to attribute blame. However, we would like to remind each of you that this is not a typical contract negotiation. This is not the time to try to maximize value for union members or the DOE. It is equally not the time to attempt to score quick political points or settle old political vendettas.

It is true that school closures force parents to make other, potentially costly arrangements and Gov. Lingle is well-intentioned in her efforts to keep them to a minimum, but what matters most to parents is the well-being of their children.

Parents are prepared to bear the hardships surrounding additional school closures so long as every attempt is made to restore as much instructional time as possible. Instructional time must be prioritized by all of us.

In our meetings with all of you during these past eight weeks, you have each expressed determination to settle this crisis and to get on with the business of next year's problems—yet you are still unable to reach a compromise.

As each furlough day occurs, children are left unattended at home while some parents work, others use sick time and vacation days to stay home, and the poorest children in our state go without the two meals they rely on at school. As we all know, school for many children is a lifeline, the social costs of furlough days enormous.

We appreciate that to offset their shortened year, many teachers view school closure days as a means to recoup some of their lost income. Yet in this current environment, we hope that teachers will keep in mind that while some see furloughs as an economic opportunity, parents are being asked to bear the additional cost of child care.

The fact that many of our teachers may be fighting for a chance to flip burgers or drive a cab requires some deep reflection on all of our parts, but a solution requires compromise from all parties and on many levels.

What we need is a solution to the crisis that eliminates Furlough Fridays while maintaining the 27 days' worth of classroom time upon which the governor has rightly focused. To be fair, the solution must balance teachers' desire to preserve some of their classroom preparation time with parents' desire to minimize school closure days and maximize instructional time.

Here is a two-year proposal that balances these concerns:

» Eleven days restored by use of $50 million from the rainy day fund, with “;fringe”; costs to be borne by the DOE over the life of the agreement.

» Seven days restored by swapping non-instructional days for instructional days.

» Nine days added to the summer holiday spread over two years while the equivalent amount of instructional time would be made up by swapping 1.5 hours non-instructional time on “;short”; Wednesdays for instructional time.

It is not only the U.S. secretary of education and the rest of the country that are watching. The future voters of this state are watching, too.

Let's teach them the lessons of compromise, tolerance and willingness to change. Let's show them that in Hawaii, education matters.

This was written by Jo Curran, Ann Davis, Jennifer Moy, Debbie Schatz, Debbie Berger and the team of Hawaii Education Matters.