Come together, right now


POSTED: Saturday, December 19, 2009

The disappointing breakdown of talks between the Hawaii teachers union and the Lingle administration threatens to shortchange children through the remainder of the school year. Talks so far reveal the difficulty of compromise as sides dig in. Still, they must seek common ground on a way to restore some school days for students. Focus on simplification, not complicating the process with other union agreements.

Negotiations between the administration and the Hawaii State Teachers Association stalled on Wednesday after four days of talks, with no plans to resume. Talks between the union and the state Board of Education are to resume in the middle of the coming week.

Gov. Linda Lingle has suggested using the state's $50 million rainy day fund to restore 27 school days—now targeted as Furlough Fridays. However, that amount would fall far short of restoring all the furlough days without lowering teachers' wage levels and those of school employees represented by other unions now slated to be idle on those same days.

Teachers are experiencing salary reductions of 8 percent—from the average salary of $56,195 to $51,731—by forfeiting pay for the furlough days. Lingle points out that eliminating the furlough days would restore 2.8 percent with the rainy day funds. Providing full pay for those days would require about $125 million, according to Wil Okabe, the HSTA president.

The union suggests that some of the 15 days that teachers devote to planning and preparation without students around, be changed to be devoted to instruction. This is reasonable.

The Lingle administration has suggested that all 15 of those days be turned to instruction, but the union says that would deny teachers valuable time to plan and prepare.

“;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.”;

Unfortunately, both sides have been playing hardball. Linda Smith, Lingle's top aide, said the union has been proposing to change parts of the ratified contract that are unrelated to furloughs.

Stop flinging those hardballs. Meet halfway. It is becoming sadly apparent that chances of full restoration of lost class time on Furlough Fridays is waning. So get back some student instruction days on days that teachers and other staff are already slated to be on campus.

The absence of the Lingle administration in negotiations should not put an end to efforts by the Board of Education to reach a compromise that would be acceptable to the governor. The state Legislature, which convenes next month in its regular session, will make the ultimate decision on diverting revenue, such as the rainy day funds, to the school system.