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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 11, 2010

Forget this school year, start fixing the next

Another Friday, another day the public schools are closed. Today marks the 11th furlough day, with six to go before the school year ends in May.
It’s time to face the reality: The furlough-shortened 2009-10 school year is beyond salvaging.

For most schools, there are fewer than 60 instructional days left. Spring break and student testing are right around the corner. Negotiations to restore classroom days are getting nowhere.
At this point, major changes to the school schedule would be more disruptive than helpful.
This leaves only one prudent option: Move on.
The 2009-10 school year should play out as planned, furloughs and all. Negotiators and legislators should concentrate their efforts on the 2010-11 school year, with an emphasis on erasing as many of the 17 scheduled furlough days as possible.
Here’s what should be done for the next year:
• Reduce the number of furlough days, while acknowledging that some are inevitable. The state is broke. It simply can’t afford to buy back all 17 furlough days, even if it used the entire $50 million rainy-day fund — which it shouldn’t. Keeping seven furlough days on the calendar should be the target. Consider that the public’s contribution to the compromise; it’s better than raising the general excise tax.
Given that the Lingle administration and the Department of Education can’t even agree on what it costs to run the school system, there’s no point in assuming that furloughs can be completely avoided.
• Convert four planning days to teaching days. Conversions already are being done voluntarily at 184 public schools. By contract, teachers have 10 paid planning days — six for professional development and the rest for other purposes, such as classroom prep, staff and union meetings. Gov. Linda Lingle’s proposal that teachers give up all 10 days ignores the necessity of such days in raising the quality of classroom instruction. But 10 days is not a magic number — special education teachers may need more, other teachers less. Reducing the overall number of non instructional days is reasonable.
• Erase the remaining six furlough days using rainy-day funds, operating schools on these Fridays only with employees defined by the DOE and school principals as “essential.” This means classroom teachers, security staff and student transportation workers. Hawaii schools can run one day a month without administrative employees at their desks in Downtown Honolulu.
As with every compromise, all stakeholders get stung a little bit. But an agreement on furloughs reached in good faith and without political calculation can lessen the pain.
Otherwise, we’ll remain where we are now: no progress, and a full measure of furlough Fridays.