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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maddening school stalemate must come to an end

By Rep. Roy Takumi

Call it the political equivalent of March Madness. How else can we explain our inability to come up with a solution that ends furlough Fridays and gets our children back to school?

It's baffling why the Board of Education, the Department of Education and the Hawaii State Teachers Association on one hand and the governor on the other believes that it is better to talk at each other through press conferences rather than talking with each other face-to-face.

I was told by the governor's senior policy adviser, and since confirmed by the governor, that there would be no resolution to furloughs unless, and only if, the Legislature passes out the administration's bill calling for the abolishment of the BOE and putting the school superintendent in the governor's cabinet.

Think for a moment of how silly this appears. Forget about the fact that no governor has ever tied a collective bargaining agreement to the passage of an unrelated bill.

Indeed, not even Gov. Lingle has ever done this in her previous seven years. In essence, what the governor is saying is that even if all the parties to the contract were to agree to her proposal to end furloughs, she still wouldn't sign off unless the Legislature passes out her bill. Oh, my.

On the other hand, the proposal by the BOE, DOE and HSTA is puzzling as well.

The assertion that there will be dire consequences in the classroom unless every single DOE employee returns to work seems more about protecting jobs than it is about the welfare of our students.

Surely there is a way to decide whether every clerk-typist, administration services assistant, resource teacher, school renewal specialist, or personnel management specialist is critical to the daily operation of our schools.

But there is hope.

Although it's taken far longer than it should, the governor has moved from her original proposal of 36 furlough days to being willing to tap $62 million from special funds to pay for school-based employees. The union has agreed to exchange six planning days for classroom days.

The Legislature has also tried to do its part.

We cannot intervene in the collective bargaining process and our role is limited to funding whatever proposal is agreed upon.

But we have taken the unprecedented step of earmarking funds ranging from $50 million (HB 2200) to $62 million (SB 2124) prior to an agreement by the relevant parties.

Officials from the teachers union have indicated that the negotiations are over.

They put forth a good faith effort and this is their final and best offer.

I can understand the frustration. I do appreciate the time and energy it took to come this far.

But I would remind the union, and all of us, that one of the key lessons we teach our children is a timeless one. And that is that they should never give up no matter the odds, that reaching your goals only comes about through perseverance , dedication and commitment.

If we keep this lesson in mind, I'm confident this ongoing madness will end.

If we don't, we have only ourselves to blame.