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Thursday, December 7, 2000

Raise for teachers
has price tag

Programs will need to
be eliminated or reduced
if a strike is to be averted

By Crystal Kua

While they disagree on how much of a pay raise to give Hawaii's public school teachers, those on both sides of the stalled teacher contract talks agree on one thing:Any salary increase will likely come with tough choices on how to fund it.

The state has offered a four-year contract with no raises in the the first two years, 4 percent in the third year and 5 percent in the final year. The HSTA, meanwhile, is asking for 22 percent.

Gov. Ben Cayetano said 9 percent is all the state can afford to give teachers and other public employee unions.

"Even at 4 and 5 (percent) for two years, we will have to go into the budget and make some reductions and eliminate programs," Cayetano said.

"The state's fiscal condition is good, it's improving, but we're not at the point where we could afford the kind of raises that people are seeking."

The Hawaii Labor Relations Board officially declared an impasse yesterday in contract negotiations between the state and the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents 11,000 public school teachers. An impasse declaration is the first step in a process that could lead to a strike.

Teachers could strike as early as March.

As part of the impasse process, the two sides will enter mediation with a federal mediator beginning next week.

"We're going to sit down and meet with the state, try to figure out if anyone has room to move," HSTA chief negotiator Joan Husted said.

The state also faces the possibility of a strike by the blue-collar workers of the United Public Workers and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly faculty union.

The state administration has opened the state's financial records to both the HSTA and the Legislature.

Legislative leaders have said that they will fund an arbitrated 14.5 percent salary increase for white-collar workers represented by the Hawaii Government Employee Association.

"We have invited (lawmakers) to make suggestions either to raise more revenue or reduce programs," Cayetano said. "That's when it becomes difficult, when you're looking at what programs do you eliminate or reduce to make ways for pay raises."

Husted said the union is continuing to analyze the state's books, but the union believes that based on what it has seen so far, the state can afford more by prioritizing spending.

"We've looked at choices that have been made to spend money. The governor believes he has valid reasons, but the first choice has to be public education and staffing classrooms -- otherwise, the other options don't work," Husted said. "We didn't agree with all the (spending) choices."

The governor said the rhetoric has stepped up, especially with advertising being run by the union. But Husted said the union has been trying to show the conditions under which teachers work.

"Hawaii public education is in a crisis. We're losing teachers; we can't find teachers," Husted said. "Every child in the public schools deserves a qualified teacher, and in order to do that, it takes money."

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