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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 20, 2010

Latest furlough proposal rejected

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Wil Okabe

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Hawaii State Teachers Association officials met with negotiators from the state Board of Education yesterday for about four hours and, as expected, rejected the governor's most recent furlough reduction proposal.

HSTA President Wil Okabe did not release details of the talks. Officials discussed Gov. Linda Lingle's most recent proposal to use a combination of $50 million from the state's rainy-day fund and teachers giving up planning days to eliminate 23 remaining furloughs under the teachers' most recent two-year contract.

"We rejected it, if that's the proposal," Okabe said. "We have said all along that we are still willing to consider options to resolve furlough Fridays. But in the end it's very difficult to solve things when the governor is not flexible in her stance."

State Board of Education spokesman Alex Da Silva did not return a request for comment for this story.

The governor's most recent plan to eliminate public school teacher furloughs was nearly identical to her original November plan, which she announced upon her return from her trip to China.

The governor's original proposal would have used the $50 million from the state's rainy-day fund to cover salaries only for "essential" teachers and would have excluded several categories of instructors, including resource teachers and librarians.

It would have used a combination of the rainy-day money and teachers giving up their planning days to cover the remaining furlough days in the HSTA's two-year contract.

HSTA and the Board of Education have said they are concerned that the governor's plan would not fund the salaries for all school-level employees to return to work, including security guards, health aides, cafeteria workers and others.

Union and education officials have 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 still suggesting. Education officials warned that the $19.3 million shortage would result in layoffs of 2,500 full-time employees, increased class sizes and loss of school-level programs.

Okabe said the union and BOE negotiators did discuss "other options" to reduce furlough days. He said the union and the education negotiators plan to continue to meet over the next two weeks to come up with another plan to eliminate furlough Fridays. No additional talks were scheduled as of yesterday.

Lingle already has shot down a tentative agreement between the teachers union and education officials that was reached on Dec. 28.

The teachers union, Board of Education and Department of Education had agreed to restore seven of the 10 remaining furlough days in the current school year by using $35 million from the state's rainy-day fund. The plan did not address the 17 furlough days scheduled for next school year.