Legislators hear appeals on furloughs


POSTED: Friday, March 26, 2010

A parents group, the teachers union and the state Board of Education want legislators to support restoring cuts in public school days, despite a warning by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle that she would restrict the funds to pay for it.

Board Chairman Garrett Toguchi, along with parents group Hawaii Education Matters, told lawmakers they hope Lingle will change her mind.

After hearing public testimony yesterday, House Finance Committee Chairman Marcus Oshiro deferred action on a bill to appropriate $92 million needed to fund a proposal to end school furloughs agreed upon by the BOE and teachers union.

Oshiro said he would prefer to wait until members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association vote on a proposed agreement on Wednesday.

Under the proposed agreement, the state would restore four Furlough Fridays in the 2009-2010 school year and another 17 days in fiscal 2010-2011 by taking money out of the hurricane insurance fund.

The union has also agreed to convert six teacher planning days into instructional days.

But Lingle, who also must agree to the settlement, opposes the deal, saying it will cost too much.

Teachers union President Wil Okabe said he will abide with the decision of the 13,500-member union. The voting is scheduled for 3 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at various locations statewide.

“;This is what the public wants,”; Okabe said.

Lingle has recommended an agreement that is about $30 million less and uses only “;essential”; workers.

She also has threatened to reject the agreement unless legislators put a constitutional amendment before voters this year that would allow the governor to appoint the state schools superintendent.

Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) said the appointment of the schools superintendent should be treated as a separate issue and that Lingle was employing heavy-handed politics.

“;She's saying, 'My way or the highway,'”; Oshiro said.

Committee member Lynn Finnegan, who is also the House minority leader, disagreed with Okabe about the appropriation's broad support and said she has heard otherwise from some teachers.

Finnegan (R, Lower Pearl Ridge-Moanalua) said Lingle's proposal would cost nearly $1 million less per school day. Finnegan said returning essential and nonessential teachers does not solve the funding problem facing the state.

Hawaii Education Matters spokeswoman Jo Curran said her group supports the proposed agreement. She does not know what it will take to get elected officials, including Lingle, to compromise for the sake of the students.

“;I am outraged,”; she said.