Furlough plan achievable


POSTED: Wednesday, December 30, 2009

State education officials and the teachers union have made an earnest effort to restore classroom days to public schools—but more needs to be done. A plan for eliminating or at least significantly reducing the number of Furlough Fridays without raising taxes is necessary to maintain an adequate school system during difficult economic times.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association agreed in September to a contract that calls for cutting 17 days from this current academic year and another 17 for the next school year. The move would result in Hawaii having the shortest school year in the nation and was denounced by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan as “;inconceivable.”;

After political leaders, school officials and union leaders began blaming each other, they returned to the bargaining table to correct their mistakes. Gov. Linda Lingle offered to use $50 million from the state's rainy day fund to restore teachers' pay for 12 days over two academic years while converting 15 planning days to classroom teaching.

Instead, the union and Board of Education agreed last week to a plan that would use $35 million from the rainy day fund to restore teachers' wages for five days, have them give up two planning days and end the current school year three days early.

Gov. Linda Lingle has rightly rejected the proposal, pointing out that it would use more than two-thirds of the available rainy day fund while restoring only five days of instruction. She said the proposal “;is not a credible plan, it is not fiscally responsible and it is not sustainable.”;

In addition, she noted, it did not address the next school year, even as the state Council on Revenues has projected that its original estimates of revenue for the coming year were overly optimistic.

Robert Perkinson of Save Our Schools Hawaii said Lingle's original offer “;was not as viable as it first appeared ... She wasn't putting enough money on the table to restore every furlough day.”;

The potential for agreement remains. Senate President Colleen Hanabusa praised the school board and union for their “;great effort”; while recognizing that ultimately legislators need to work with Lingle to reach a sound solution. If the Legislature approves expenditures for the effort, she noted, the governor's signature is needed to release the funds.

The time for adversity on the issues has passed and all sides seem to recognize now that they must work together to achieve the public goal. They should not allow frustration and hostility to undermine that effort.