Furlough talks bring optimism for future deal


POSTED: Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Talks between the teachers union and state officials to restore instructional time for students resume today as hope grows that a joint solution can be arrived at before the start of the 2010 Hawaii Legislature.

Gov. Linda Lingle's senior policy adviser, Linda Smith, said the talks yesterday were constructive.

Smith said the Lingle administration is willing to allow the use of $50 million from the state's rainy day fund, enough to provide funding for 12 school days.

Smith said the goal is to restore school days for 27 Furlough Fridays from January 2010 through June 2011.

Some legislators have supported providing additional funds to restore school days.

She said the administration hopes to have a solution by Jan. 4, when public school students return from the winter break.

Smith said the Lingle administration recognizes the maximum the state can afford is $50 million.

Smith said the administration has been working with the Hawaii State Teachers Association to look at adding more instruction time in place of other kinds of school time, including break periods and short school days.

;[Preview]    HSTA, state closer to agreement

The state and the teachers union appear closer to an agreement on trying to end 27 Furlough Fridays.

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;[Preview]    BOE discusses possibly eliminating positions

The Board of Education Budget Committee met to discuss possibly eliminating 3,900 jobs to save about $18 million.

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“;We think that's very constructive that we're at that level of discussion,”; Smith said.

“;We do know the teachers need some time to plan to get ready for the classroom, and we believe we can do all of that and still restore all the furlough time we need to restore.”;

State schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said she is also optimistic about the talks.

“;It's still continuing, and, you know, as long as people are talking, there's still that opportunity,”; Hamamoto said. “;We all have the same goal, and that's to reduce the furloughs and to provide the quality instruction to the students.”;

Union President Wil Okabe said his organization is hopeful that its ideas are being carefully considered and glad to know Lingle understands the need for teacher planning days.

Board of Education members also struggled yesterday with deciding on cuts for potential budget shortfalls.

Board member Breene Harimoto said the department will have to come up with $18 million to spend on operations because Lingle wants the $50 million to go to paying only teachers' salaries.

Board member John Penebacker said the department might reduce the number of school days as a way to meet the $18 million deficit.

But a department budget official said the reduction of school days would not be an option under Lingle's goal of restoring all 27 Furlough Fridays.