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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 27, 2010

Students saved by the banks that said yes

As exultant as everyone feels about the end of school furlough days, government officials have done anything but cover themselves in glory here.

It's the business community that deserves the biggest mahalo, for cutting to the chase and coming up with a solution. First Hawaiian Bank and Bank of Hawaii are providing a $10 million line of credit to make up the difference between what lawmakers appropriated and what the governor is willing to release.

It's a $10 million fig leaf that gets the kids back in school without requiring anyone to move off their intractable positions. The money probably won't even need to be used, but it serves as a sort of performance bond that guarantees an intact school year for 2010-11.

Don Horner, First Hawaiian's chairman and CEO, was quoted in the official news release expressing how pleased the banks were to join Lingle, the Legislature, the Department of Education and the school board "in putting our students first." That was diplomatic of him, but the rest of us aren't so impressed by the government side of this equation. The last school year has seemed to be more about turf battles than putting the furlough situation right for the kids' sake.

In remarks at the press conference, Horner more candidly summed up the feelings of most in the community: "I think all of us put the children first, which frankly has not been the case in the last several months in this discussion."

Hindsight is always 20-20 vision and it now seems incredible that furloughs were initially seen as a good way to minimize the pain of colossal budget-cutting. If the object is to keep people off the unemployment lines, a furlough still can be useful for containing the fiscal damage.

But if there is a lesson to learn, it's that furloughs don't mix with public services as essential as education. All unions balk at pay cuts, and it seemed at the time that following the path of least resistance was a reasonable way to get a contract settlement.

Now we all know better than to ever go that way again.

We may not have to in the short term. The economic recovery is taking hold and there may be no need for further draconian budget cuts. Tax revenue is growing, enough so that the state took the extraordinary step of starting to issue tax refunds, something that seemed impossible just six weeks ago. Government leaders may even reasonably expect that tax revenues will rebound sufficiently so the schools won't need the $10 million, face-saving loan.

There's nothing wrong with saving face, as long as the kids end up saved, too.