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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 1, 2010

Furlough Fridays flap attains new lows

By David Shapiro

The fight over furlough Fridays has taken a disturbing new turn with the Hawaii State Teachers Association filing a labor complaint trying to force Gov. Linda Lingle to fund a deal she never agreed to and Lingle accusing the teachers union of caring more about money than students.

The governor offered the teachers $50 million from the state rainy day fund to reopen schools on 24 furlough days over the next two years. Instead, HSTA cooked up a deal with the Board of Education to take $36 million to erase seven furlough days this year only, which Lingle rejected.

Now, in a complaint to the state labor board that can only be described as idiotic, HSTA is arguing that Lingle is legally obligated to fund a deal that she was not party to with money the Legislature hasn't appropriated.

"We have exhausted all other means to get the governor to live up to commitments and responsibilities," said HSTA President Wil Okabe, who has exhausted only the public's patience as his union continues to see this as a game of fatuous jockeying for PR points.

Well, it's not a game. The furloughs are having real negative impact on learning, with anecdotal evidence that students are experiencing substantial stress as the 10-percent cut in class days drops them even further behind their national peers than they already were.

We're losing more than three weeks of instruction time this school year, and students are clearly out of sync as they adjust to the herky-jerky schedule.

"It's like coming back from spring break every furlough Monday," said Momilani Elementary principal Doreen Higa. "They're more out of school than they're in school. We find when they come off of a three-day weekend or a four-day weekend, they sort of forget their school behaviors."

It's indecent that the grown-ups in charge of finding a fix keep treating this devastating setback for our keiki as cheap political sport.

Lingle didn't help get the discussion pointed in the right direction when she alleged that "union leaders care more about money than educating Hawai'i's children."

To whatever extent that's true, it's true of all the parties to this sorry spectacle and it's unfair to single out teachers for blame.

If these press release warriors can't act like responsible adults and find a way to end the ongoing disgrace of furlough Fridays, they should at least do us the favor of shutting up.