Governor 'revamping' proposal to end Hawaii teacher furloughs
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Gov. Linda Lingle's administration rejected, again, a tentative agreement between education officials and the Hawaii State Teachers Association that would have ended "furlough Fridays" for the remainder of the current school year.
Linda Smith, the governor's senior policy adviser, said the state administration will continue to work with education officials this week to craft a "revamped" proposal to present to the teachers' union. Smith said they hoped to have an agreement with the HSTA prior to the next furlough Friday, scheduled for Jan. 15.
She was not specific about what might be different in the new plan, but said the governor hopes to address not only the remaining 10 furlough days in the current school year, but also the 17 furlough Fridays in next year's school calendar.
"It (the previous agreement) is a foundation that we hope to build on, make it more holistic and apply to not only this school year but next school year," Smith said. "We're going to take something that is more comprehensive back to the HSTA."
Education officials and the HSTA were disappointed at the latest development in the public school furlough saga. Lingle's staff met with education officials and state Board of Education chairman Garrett Toguchi for nearly two hours yesterday morning at the Queen Lili'uokalani Building on Miller Street.
Acting superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi was not present during those discussions. She attended a previously scheduled meeting regarding the state's application for federal Race to the Top grant money.
Toguchi called the rejection "a devastating setback for public education."
"The governor's staff's willingness to meet again and devise a new proposal is encouraging. However, given the urgency of the matter, it is imperative that we come up with a workable proposal that gets students back to school before time runs out," he said.
On Dec. 28, the DOE announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the teachers' union to effectively eliminate furlough Fridays for the current school year. The agreement did not deal with next school year. That same day the governor summarily rejected the plan, calling it fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable, but after her aides met with education officials two days later, the governor's office said it was re-examining the details of the plan.
Under the agreement, $35 million from the state's rainy-day fund would restore five furlough days. Teacher planning days on Jan. 4 and May 27 would be converted to teaching days, restoring two more classroom days for students. The school year for students would end three days early, on May 21, leaving the week beginning May 24 as a furlough week for teachers.
Thus, seven of the 10 remaining furlough days for the 2009-10 school year would be restored. But by moving the remaining three furlough days to the end of the year, furlough Fridays would have been eliminated.
Smith said additional meetings may be held as early as tomorrow with the BOE and DOE negotiating teams, led by BOE members John Penebacker and Janis Akuna.
HSTA president Wil Okabe, speaking by phone from Washington, D.C., said the union would be willing to examine a new proposal if it is presented.
"I believe that the HSTA and the board and the department had come up with a viable option to address the furlough issue for the school year," Okabe said.
Okabe said he was disappointed that the governor was unwilling to go along with the tentative agreement.
"If the governor has not moved from her position of continuing to ask teachers to use all their planning days, that's not something we'd be willing to look at," he said.
NEXT YEAR, TOO
Lingle's plan would have required teachers give up 15 planning days to replace furlough Fridays. Money from the rainy day fund — about $50 million — would cover an additional 12 days, for 27 furlough days in all.
Smith would not be specific about what the new proposal may look like. She said the administration wants to ensure that next school year's furlough Fridays are addressed in addition to the 10 furlough days remaining for this school year.
She also mentioned that the governor's team wants to come to an understanding with the DOE and BOE negotiators on who is considered an "essential" worker in the school system.
"We want to look at the dollars to see if we can pin down in exact detail if we're looking at just those individuals who come in contact with the students, and who we need to have at the school level, to see how far those dollars can stretch," Smith said.
The idea of essential workers had been a sore point for the HSTA during previous negotiations with the governor's team.
Union officials argued that the governor's plan would only call back "essential" teachers — mostly classroom teachers — and would not cover the salaries of health aides, educational assistants, office staff, security guards or cafeteria workers.