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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 31, 2010

Furloughs over, but our black eye lives on

By David Shapiro

The formula for resolving public school furlough Fridays for the next school year seemed a convoluted exercise in face-saving, but we can only be thankful they got it done by whatever means it took to begin erasing this scar on Hawai'i's reputation.

The teachers union and the state Board of Education got the $67 million they wanted, Gov. Linda Lingle got away with paying only the $57 million she wanted from the hurricane relief fund by relying on a $10 million bank loan to make up the difference, and charter schools got $2.2 million out of the deal.

By settling it the day before classes let out, they could all boast about achieving a just resolution before the school year was over.

I don't know about that. They saved 17 class days for next year, but not until after their poor judgment, obstinacy and dithering cost schoolkids 17 lost class days this year to put them at a national low of 163 days.

Denying our children such a big chunk of their education while childish grown-ups postured, pointed fingers and played political games is a source of community shame. That this became more about face-saving for adults than education for our kids points up a disturbing lack of responsible leadership.

Beyond the damage to the keiki, school furloughs gave Hawai'i a black eye nationally. There are persistent reports that military families avoid assignments here because of the bad reputation of our public schools. A New York Times editorial last weekend expressed disbelief about our lack of urgency in correcting an embarrassing mistake.

"The furloughs were rightly deplored by parents and denounced by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and showed Hawaii's political and education establishment at its worst," the Times said.

"When the first 'furlough Friday' happened last October, we didn't imagine that Hawaii which has one statewide school district with a lackluster record of achievement would slouch through the rest of the school year without getting its kids back in their seats."

With President Obama hosting the APEC conference of world leaders in Hawai'i next year, there's much talk about using the opportunity to entice international companies to bring their business here.

One of the first things these companies look for in choosing where to do business is an educated workforce. Good luck with selling that after months of mocking news reports around the world about our furlough Fridays.

We can only be relieved that this community trauma is finally over and hope there have been lessons taken from the pain.