Board still hopes to gain support for furlough plan


POSTED: Wednesday, December 30, 2009

State Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi plans to meet today with members of Gov. Linda Lingle's staff to try and gain the administration's support for a plan to reduce furlough days for public school students.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders say a special session to deal with the furlough issues seems unlikely, given the timing and the governor's stance.

Lingle criticized the plan by the board, the Department of Education and the Hawaii State Teachers Association as not credible, fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable.

Toguchi is set to meet with Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy adviser, and Marie Laderta, the state's chief negotiator, to try and persuade them otherwise.

“;The board and I remain committed to bringing students back to the classroom for as many days as possible,”; Toguchi said in a statement. “;Failure is not an option when something as important as the education of Hawaii's children is at stake.”;

In all, 17 classroom days were cut this year, with 17 more set for next school year while teachers and other state employees are on unpaid leave under new contracts that call for furloughs as a means to cut state expenses.

Seven furlough days already have passed.

The union-board agreement would use $35 million of the state's rainy day fund to restore teachers' pay for five days, provided they give up two planning days for instruction. The three finals days will be scheduled at the end of the school year.

Lawmakers said union and department leaders gave them assurances they would not seek additional money to make up the 17 days next year, but would work on adjusting the school schedule to accommodate furloughs.

Lingle has proposed using $50 million from the rainy day fund to restore teachers' pay for 12 days over two academic years ending June 2011. The rest would be restored by converting paid teacher planning days to classroom days.

Any use of the rainy day fund, valued at about $58 million, would require legislative approval.

If lawmakers held a five-day special session to pass a bill authorizing use of money from the fund, the measure would require Lingle's approval.

“;At this point it doesn't look favorable for a special session,”; said House Speaker Calvin Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise-Palolo Valley). “;I don't think we'll resolve anything if we don't get the concurrence of the governor.”;

Democrats have the numbers to override any veto, but the governor still would able to restrict the appropriated funds, making them unavailable for use on anything else.

“;If she doesn't release it, it sits where it is,”; said Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua). “;We still can't guarantee to the parents and/or the Department (of Education) that the money will get to them.

“;If it's done, they will all have to go and ask the governor to release the funds.”;

Both urged all sides to continue negotiations as lawmakers head into the 2010 regular session on Jan. 20.