Lingle, BOE spar over stalled furlough plan
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Gov. Lingle Lingle said she will respond soon to a variety of concerns from the state Board of Education regarding her proposal to restore public school furlough days, a proposal she made about a month ago and has stalled since.
The governor's spokesman, Russell Pang, said the administration has been frustrated that the BOE has not formally presented Lingle's proposal to the Hawaii State Teachers Association even though the governor had announced her revised plan on Jan. 8.
"It's the third furlough day since Jan. 8," Pang said yesterday. "We believe it could be moving along a lot quicker if the DOE and BOE would get on board and pass the formal proposal along to the HSTA."
Lingle's plan would use a combination of $50 million from the state's rainy-day fund and convert teacher planning days to eliminate the remaining furlough days of public school teachers this school year and next.
BOE Chairman Garrett Toguchi had said that the board on Jan. 22 sent a letter to the governor requesting additional information and clarification about her proposal. But Pang said yesterday the governor did not receive the letter until her office asked for it on Tuesday.
"We received the letter Feb. 2 and it was dated Jan. 22," Pang said. "We only received it after we called their office. We have not responded back yet. The governor will be responding verbally to the (BOE) chairman soon."
The 10th furlough Friday of the current school year came and went yesterday with no concrete agreement between the BOE, the governor, the teachers union and lawmakers to reduce the remaining 24 furlough days in HSTA's most recent two-year contract. A number of bills are currently floating through the halls of the state Legislature, including ones that would use the state's hurricane relief fund or other special funds.
Toguchi and BOE spokesman Alex Da Silva did not return phone calls requesting comment for this story.
Toguchi has said the board is concerned about provisions of Lingle's plan that he says would compromise the safety of school students. He said the board was unclear on whether the governor's plan would not cover the salary costs for all school personnel to return to work, including campus security officers or school nurses.
Also, union and education officials had estimated the DOE would face a $19.3 million budget shortfall under the governor's plan. That's even if teachers swap their planning days, without additional pay, as the governor is suggesting.
Education officials have warned that the $19.3 million shortfall would result in layoffs of 2,500 full-time employees, increased class sizes and loss of school-level programs.
Pang said the governor plans to address the board's concerns soon.
HSTA President Wil Okabe said the union has yet to receive the details of the proposal from either the governor or the board. He said the union has placed most of its hope for a resolution with the Legislature.
"There are some bills for funding that we have testified in support of," Okabe said.
Last weekend, the governor accused the BOE of attempting to "stonewall" her proposal and "standing in the way of resolving the furlough issue and preventing students from returning to school."
On Monday, Toguchi released a statement saying the governor's office was "distorting the facts."
He said the board was waiting for the governor to answer a letter of concern. He said the letter was hand-delivered on Jan. 22.
"Instead of answering the letter, the governor chose to blame the Board and Education and Department," Toguchi said in a statement. "The governor may make an informal proposal directly to HSTA if she so chooses, but it would be irresponsible for the board to formally offer to HSTA a plan that puts quantity of school days ahead of educational quality while jeopardizing the health and safety of our students."