[ TEACHER STRIKE ]
Pressure is onTHE HEAT IS ON for contract talks between the state and the teachers union to produce a settlement this weekend and end the 17-day-old statewide teachers strike.
A lawsuit over the teachers
strike's effect on the Felix decree
adds to the urgency
By Crystal Kua
"It's fortunate we have two days of the weekend to work on it, so we're going to take the time necessary to try to come up with the package, but I think both parties are trying very hard to get a settlement in the next few days," HSTA chief negotiator Joan Husted said during a break in bargaining last night.
Hawaii's more than 180,000 public school students have missed 12 days of school since April 5, when nearly 13,000 public school teachers went on strike over the amount of proposed pay raises.
Adding to the sense of urgency at last night's negotiations is a hearing scheduled Tuesday in federal court on a motion filed by the attorneys representing plaintiffs in the Felix consent decree.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra is being asked to issue an order compelling the state immediately to provide educational and mental-health services to special-needs students covered by the consent decree or to appoint a receiver to ensure services are provided.
As long as school is out, services are not being provided to students, and the work to get the school system in compliance cannot be done, the motion said.
Ezra had told negotiators for the state and union that if the strike is not settled by the end of this week, he may intervene.
Eric Seitz, one of the plaintiff attorneys, said he has received calls from parents of special-needs children who are desperate for the resumption of services that were halted when the strike began.
"Kids are really suffering," he said.
If a contract settlement is reached over the weekend, Tuesday would be the soonest schools could open, said Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen. That would give teachers time to ratify a tentative pact and a day to go back to prepare classrooms for students' arrival. The HSTA has reserved the Stan Sheriff Center and other sites until Thursday for ratification meetings.
Seitz said that if the strike is settled over the weekend and schools reopen, the immediate need for such an order as the plaintiffs are seeking would be moot, but the long-term effects still need to be dealt with by the court.
"The urgency for that is removed if the strike is settled," Seitz said. "My thought is that the court is going to have to revisit the impact of the strike on existing (court) orders."
Those discussions also could take place on Monday, when a status conference will be held primarily to discuss the Legislature's actions on funding services in the consent decree.
Meanwhile, Gov. Ben Cayetano, who earlier had predicted a settlement yesterday, was less optimistic as the day wore on. "I'm optimistic we'll settle maybe over the weekend, but you never know. It takes two to settle," Cayetano said.
But Cayetano said that if the teachers' contract is settled, it would add to the mounting cost of state employee pay raises.
The already concluded pay raise talks with other public-sector employee unions are likely to result in budget cuts of $95 million, Cayetano said.
Calculating that the teachers' pay raise will come in close to the 14.5 percent that the HGEA won, Cayetano said he is expecting cuts will affect the state educational system.
Previously, he had said the state's public worker raises would cost the state $55 million, but with the HGEA deal and expected HSTA agreement, the figure is climbing.
"It is going to be a very big pill for us to swallow. We are looking at ways to do this. There is no question in my mind that some programs are going to go," he said.
Star-Bulletin reporter Richard Borreca contributed to this report
>> HSTA Web site
>> State Web site
>> Governor's strike Web site
>> DOE Web site
>> UHPA Web site