Federal Judge David Ezra plans to tell negotiators for the state and Hawaii's public schoolteachers today to reach a deal to end the 19-day-old strike by tomorrow morning or he will move to end it for them.
Ezra is prepared to
intervene on behalf of
A negotiator for the teachersBy Crystal Kua, Nelson Daranciang,
union says a settlement is near
B.J. Reyes and Diana Leone
Ezra oversees the state's compliance in the Felix consent decree which mandates that the state provide health and education services to special-needs services.
He has previously threatened a federal takeover of the state's public school system if the state's December deadline to comply with the Felix consent decree was endangered by the strike.
Attorney Jeff Portnoy, the court-appointed special master to monitor the state's compliance, said this morning that Ezra would meet with negotiators from the state and the Hawaii State Teachers Association later today and tell them to settle their differences before tomorrow's 9 a.m. scheduled hearing on a motion by the attorneys representing plaintiffs in the Felix consent decree.
The attorneys have asked Ezra to issue an order compelling the state immediately to provide services to special-needs students covered by the consent decree or to appoint a receiver to ensure services are provided.
Portnoy refused to speculate on whether Ezra would order a federal takeover, but he did say, "The strike has critically wounded the Felix kids."
Portnoy said Ezra would grant no extensions of the Felix compliance deadline.
At the state Capitol this morning, meanwhile, hundreds of teachers and their supporters rallied and were told that an end to the strike was at hand.
"I think we're reasonably close to getting this thing settled. All we need is one more push," Joan Husted, HSTA chief negotiator, told the cheering crowd.
"I can promise you (that) you will be very pleased when you see the final product," she said.
The last face-to-face talks broke off at 4:45 a.m. Saturday morning with the HSTA negotiators considering the state's latest offer.
"We contacted the state's negotiator, and we hope to get back to the bargaining table tomorrow," HSTA spokeswoman Danielle Lum said last night after union negotiators ended work on their own proposal and discussions on the state's offer.
"The state's chief negotiator is open to listening to what they have to say," Gov. Ben Cayetano spokeswoman Kim Murakawa said.
But as of this morning, there was no word on whether a meeting was scheduled today.
Both sides are being tight-lipped on the details of the state's offer. However, after getting briefed on the status of the negotiations at the Capitol yesterday, Cayetano said, "Every proposal that we made will involve some pain to the state."
Board of Education members on the state negotiating team, Denise Matsumoto and Winston Sakurai, attended the same briefing yesterday. "We're just waiting right now," Sakurai said. "We're just on call."
Teachers who walked off the job the first day of the strike, April 5, would have lost one month of retirement credit last Friday. However, the state has offered to give the teachers credit for the Good Friday holiday. In order to retain this month's credit, they need to return to work today. But several teachers said they are ready to keep walking the line for as long it takes.
One big outstanding issue evidently is retroactive pay for the two years teachers have been working without a contract.
The HSTA was asking for a 22 percent increase when its 13,000 members went on strike. In the last offers made public, the state proposed $93 million in raises, while the union asked for raises totaling $187 million.
The union has said that a contract must include salary increases for all teachers, step movements and retroactive pay. The state was offering pay increases for the final two years of a four-year contract but none for the past two years.
Cayetano "is trying to tell us, 'Everybody else is giving in, so you should, too,' " said Cindy Jenness, who teaches the peer education program at Castle High School. "It's a little frustrating.
"I think we feel that if it doesn't settle in our way, we're going to really hurt ourselves in the future," Jenness said. "I think a lot of people are thinking we don't want to keep having two years without a contract."
Kailua High teacher and picket captain Todd Hendricks added: "Apparently, the dear governor's argument is that all the other unions didn't get retroactive pay, but four years ago we went through this exact same thing, where the state proposed no raises for the first two years of a four-year contract period. ... We can't keep doing that -- it sets a precedent."
Lester Kunimitsu, an agriculture teacher at Baldwin High on Maui, is area coordinator for a four-school complex that includes Waihee Elementary, Wailuku Elementary and Iao Intermediate. Of more than 300 teachers, only one has crossed the picket line, he said.
"The picket lines are real strong," he said. "So far, our members are real determined. We're trusting our leadership."
>> HSTA Web site
>> State Web site
>> Governor's strike Web site
>> DOE Web site