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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 5, 2010

Restore furlough Fridays with longer school days

By Sen. Clayton H.W. Hee

Here is one suggestion to restore furlough Fridays, improve the quality of education, increase teacher pay and save taxpayers money.

In 2009, Act 162-09 was passed by the Legislature appropriating $1.39 billion to operate public schools for one year. This year, the governor has requested a general fund budget of $1.27 billion, which does not include funds to restore 17 furlough Fridays.

The cost to restore those 17 days, at $5.5 million per day, is $93.5 million. That's what all the arguing is about. So a whole, complete school year would cost $1.36 billion; 178 days for students and 189 days for teachers.

Instead of raiding other funds, raising taxes and so forth, we should consider the following:

The Department of Education should take the six "missed" instructional hours on each furlough Friday and add one hour each to Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Three hours should be added to Wednesday, which is a already a shorter school day.

The latest proposal by the school board and the Hawai'i State Teachers Association concedes that teachers are willing to accept less preparatory time, which currently takes place on Wednesdays. School would end Monday through Thursday one hour later.

All Fridays should be added back in as well and the calendar should be compressed forward, resulting in a shorter school year. The 2010 school year would end on April 7 instead of May 26, with no loss in instructional hours. Students would go to school Monday through Friday for an hour more each day, resulting in a school year shorter by 20 percent in days but equal in instructional hours.

What are the financial savings attached to this scenario?

Of that $1.36 billion to fund the schools, 68 percent or $926 million is salaries for teachers and school personnel including principals, vice principals, cafeteria workers, custodians, etc.

Even with a shorter school year, we still must pay 100 percent of the personnel cost because staff members are still working the same number of hours. But one can reasonably expect that because the school year is 20 percent shorter in days, a savings of 20 percent of the non-personnel costs will result.

Non-personnel costs add up to $436 million, and 20 percent off that is $87.2 million. The "bean counters" might argue that across the board savings of 20 percent is not realistic and they may be correct. However, that difference, I contend, would be far less than the $92 million the HSTA/BOE seeks to end the furloughs and less than the $62 million sought by the governor.

For example, if the savings for non-personnel costs were $50 million instead of $87.2 million the difference to make up would be $42 million (HSTA/BOE proposal) or $12 million (governor's proposal).

Other important ways the DOE can save even more:

• The days freed up by the shorter school year could be offered to students as a first of two optional summer school sessions for a fee, affording motivated students the opportunity to graduate earlier, or those falling behind to get needed tutorial help. Seniors would graduate early enough to enroll in the first University of Hawai'i summer session if they choose. Even though fees for summer school are modest, this would still bring new income to the DOE.

• The DOE should stop considering and start consolidating/closing smaller schools to save taxpayer money, and deploy that work force to new schools where populations are expanding.

• No matter how small, every school has a principal. Schools with fewer than 150 students should share principals. Adult education schools do not need principals.

• Technology makes instant, statewide communication possible so district offices should be evaluated and, where appropriate, closed.

• In tough times like these, it is reasonable to ask athletic directors to take on more than one school. Some schools have had as many as two and a half athletic directors. They, as well as resource teachers, should be in the classrooms.

• Marion Higa should immediately undertake a management and financial audit of the DOE.

Compressing the school calendar by extending classes an hour each day affords students the opportunity to complete their school year earlier, take an additional summer course or attend summer session at UH. It also saves money in the most expensive agency in state government, the Department of Education.

Problems are never as difficult as they may seem if "change agents" as opposed to "enablers of the status quo" are truly willing to transform public education.