Teachers, Lingle administration at stalemate on furlough fixes


POSTED: Thursday, December 17, 2009

The teachers union and Gov. Linda Lingle's administration have hit a standstill in talks on reducing the number of Furlough Fridays at public schools, diminishing chances of a solution before early January.

Negotiations ended yesterday after four days with no plans to resume.

But Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto and the school board are continuing to meet with the Hawaii State Teachers Association in an attempt to reduce the number of furlough days.

Lingle has supported the idea of using $50 million from the state's rainy day fund to restore 27 school days from next January through June 2011.

Her administration has said the $50 million will pay for about 12 days and was discussing how to provide additional instruction time for the remaining 15 days without increasing the education budget.

;[Preview]  Furlough Fridays will go on for now

Talks to end teacher Furlough Fridays broke off and no new talks are scheduled.

Watch ]


HSTA President Wil Okabe said to restore 27 school days using the rainy day funds, the state Department of Education would have to lay off some teachers and increase classroom size.

“;The governor's plan significantly undermines the quality of education,”; Okabe said. “;To have a position of take it or leave it is not a situation of collaborating and discussing.”;

Okabe said Lingle's plan also jeopardizes receiving $75 million in federal “;Race to the Top”; funds for education innovation and reform.

He said teachers have already taken an 8 percent pay cut. That has reduced the average teacher salary to $51,731 from $56,195.

Okabe said the department needs about $125 million, including the $50 million, to restore all the furlough days.




Court to hear appeal on furloughs

        A hearing has been scheduled for February on an appeal of a federal judge's ruling denying a request for a preliminary injunction to end Furlough Fridays.

Visiting Judge Wallace Tashima of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the injunction request Nov. 9, saying the agreement that created the furlough days was made to address budget cuts and was not specific to individual education programs for special-needs students.


Attorney Carl Varady, who represents students with autism, filed a lawsuit that claims disabled students are being irreparably harmed.


A visiting court panel will hear the appeal at 9 a.m. Feb. 10 in Honolulu.


Tomorrow will be the seventh furlough day since Oct. 23. There will be three more before the February hearing.


Star-Bulletin staff




Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie said a solution could come from the Jobs for Main Street Act, passed by the House yesterday.

“;Based on current population data, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimates that Hawaii would get approximately $92 million over two years from this fund,”; said Abercrombie, who is a candidate for governor. The Senate has yet to act on the measure.

Garrett Toguchi, chairman of the Board of Education, said the board, superintendent and union will resume talks without the governor's office.

He said he disagreed with the Lingle administration that the blame rests on the union's shoulders.

“;We're disappointed that the talks broke off,”; he said. “;The governor's team is not willing to make a counteroffer with the unions, which could essentially end all talks.”;

The board will resume talks by the middle of next week after teachers on the negotiating team finish classes, he said. The board and the HSTA could find a solution through a supplemental agreement to the teachers' contract, which doesn't require ratification.

One such agreement would be restoring lost instructional time on Wednesdays, which are short days for students.

“;That could start in January, if accepted,”; Toguchi said. But he conceded it may not restore all 27 days as the governor wants.

“;If both sides can move inward, hopefully we can come to something before the end of the year,”; he said.

He said the board also wants to preserve some planning days for teachers.

“;We demand a lot of our educators,”; he said. “;To take away those planning days is irresponsible and unfair.”;

Lingle's top aide, Linda Smith, said the governor has offered a “;viable compromise solution,”; proposing to restore teacher salaries by 2.8 percent using the rainy day money.

But the administration said the union is proposing to reopen portions of the original contract unrelated to furloughs and is seeking changes that would compromise the safety of students and limit after-school programs.

“;At this point, the ability to resolve the furlough situation rests squarely on the shoulders of the HSTA leadership,”; the administration said in a statement.

Star-Bulletin reporter Robert Shikina contributed to this story.