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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Statewide education strike is a loser for all

The distinction will be dubious, to say the least, if Hawai'i makes national news by producing a statewide strike of its entire public education system.

But that was the prospect late yesterday as negotiators for the state and for those who teach in our public schools and universities continued to be far away from a settlement of their contract negotiations.

If a strike occurs, it will be a sorry capstone to several years of effort to put education at the top of the state's priority list. There have been unprecedented attempts to give both the public school system and the university the autonomy and management flexibility needed to make major changes in the way we teach in Hawai'i.

Pay for teachers and professors is low by any reasonable measurement. But it is also true that — relatively speaking — education has suffered fewer of the thousands of cuts that were imposed during years of economic stagnation and budget shortfalls.

It is clear that public sentiment is behind our educators — particularly the hard-working and hard-pressed public school teachers. If sentiment for University of Hawai'i faculty is somewhat less sympathetic, it is primarily because their story and their case have not been as persuasively told.

The danger of a statewide education strike is more than the disruption it would cause in our schools and on our university campuses. The strike would be a black mark on the reputation of a state already suffering with poor image problems. We are known as a state where education is shorted and economic opportunities are wanting.

That reputation, while not entirely undeserved, has been built in part on false premises and outdated information. But it is a reputation that we can repair only by diligent and steady efforts to improve our economic climate and put public education on the pedestal it deserves.

A strike, however short, would set that effort back tremendously. There is still time. This must be settled. As Hawai'i learned in 1973, when the teachers last went out on the picket line: No one wins in a strike.