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Thursday, November 16, 2000

Cayetano, teachers
battle over slicing state
budget pie

By Pat Omandam

The Hawaii State Teachers Association is apparently unaware of the larger role of state government, and if it closely examined the state budget it would realize the state can't raise teachers' pay any more than it has proposed, said Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Not so, said the teachers union.

Both sides continue their public debate after an impasse in contract negotiations. Cayetano said yesterday he has a constitutional obligation to balance the state budget, as well as a moral obligation to fulfill a vast array of other responsibilities, such as programs that help the poor or reduce drug and alcohol addiction.

"We do not believe we've reach an impasse in the HSTA negotiations," the governor said in a statement. "We believe that reasonable people, after examining our books, will recognize it's not possible to offer more than we have and still carry out all of these obligations."

The state has offered pay raises of 4 percent in 2002 and 5 percent in 2003 totaling $67 million; the union wants across-the-board raises along with step increases worth $295 million over the same period.

Joan Husted, HSTA deputy executive director, said the union has reviewed the state's financial books provided by the state budget director, and it has independently developed a fiscal projection for the state.

"In light of the severe teacher shortage in the state of Hawaii, we believe that the parties should be able to come to a settlement that both can live with in the financial confines of the state, which will take steps to alleviate that shortage," Husted said.

Husted said Cayetano's position in the negotiations is expected but he must consider that the education system is in crisis in the state of Hawaii. For example, she said, there are empty classrooms because the state can't attract teachers.

"That crisis has to be dealt with," she said.

Cayetano also criticized HSTA-sponsored radio ads that say Hawaii's teacher pay ranks last in the country. State chief negotiator David Yogi responded local teachers actually make slightly above the national average and that adjusting teacher salary against Hawaii's cost of living doesn't provide an accurate reflection.

"Many professions in Hawaii, including accountants or registered nurses, would rank last in the country," Yogi said.

"This is the reality we accept when we choose to live in Hawaii. It's the market we live in. This isn't to say our teachers don't deserve more, because they do," he said.

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