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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 21, 2001

Contract standoff builds as bonus splits teachers, state

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

The state's chief negotiator yesterday admitted that, in the heat of negotiations during April's teachers strike, he didn't notice problems in the wording of the contract, which have since contributed to the bitter dispute over a professional bonus and whether it was intended to be paid for one or two years.

But, at the same time, Davis Yogi produced evidence that he said bolsters the state's argument that the agreement was only for one year.

"I think we're getting a little tired of being called liars, getting tired of them saying that (we're) reneging on something," Yogi said.

Three months after the state's teachers ended their three-week strike, the two sides still cannot agree. With hundreds of teachers returning to school next week, both sides say they're eager to find a solution, although neither appears ready to budge. The dispute has delayed signing of the contract and the HSTA has threatened legal action or another strike.

The standoff entered a new phase yesterday when the state went on a public relations offensive, revealing usually confidential negotiation documents to tell its side of the story.

The documents included an HSTA flier handed out during the teachers ratification vote that itemizes the professional bonus at a cost of $6 million.

Yogi also provided copies of the state's informal proposals of April 21 and 23, the day the two sides reached a tentative agreement. Both proposals list the professional bonus at a cost of $6 million. All figures on the proposals are the total, two-year costs, Yogi said, indicating the state only intended to pay $6 million, the estimated cost of the bonus for one year.

Hawai'i State Teachers Association Executive Director Joan Husted disputed Yogi's claims, saying the deal was always for two years.

The union's meeting notes show that as recently as five weeks ago, the Department of Education was still talking about paying the bonus for two years, she said.

Central to the confusion over the bonus is the uncertainty over how many teachers are eligible. The Department of Education's computer system was unable to provide numbers during negotiations and a manual count was impossible in the time available. Yogi said state and union staff worked together to arrive at the $6 million estimate for one year, a claim that Husted disputes.

"The only dollar figure the state had given us was $6 million," she said. "We had cautioned them that we didn't know what the figure was because we don't have the personnel records."

To support the union's claims, Husted also points to the 10-page "ratification copy" of the new contract, which she said makes it "crystal clear" the deal was for two years.

The copy reads: "Teachers who hold professional certificates based on a Masters degree or a Professional Diploma shall receive a 3% differential calculated on their current salary each year."

That language was written by HSTA staff and reviewed by both parties at the union's headquarters on the night of April 23 when they reached their tentative agreement.

Yogi argues that the wording is open to interpretation, but does admit that he overlooked the crucial language in the contract that specifies the bonus be paid "each year." It wasn't until May 1 that the state informed the HSTA by fax that there were "problems" with the contract language.

The two sides also continue to disagree on which teachers the bonus was intended to cover.

Yogi produced an HSTA fax dated March 29 proposing the bonus for teachers with professional diploma or Masters of Education. Husted agreed that proposal had been on the table, but it later changed to include teachers with master's degrees in a related field.

Although the state disputes that, it has agreed to the broader definition, increasing the cost from $6 million to more than $9 million, said Jackie Kido, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ben Cayetano.The governor is willing to pay $9 million for one year, she said, but not for two.

Meanwhile, the final cost of the deal is still uncertain while DOE staff finish working their way through 7,500 teacher records to determine who is eligible.

At this point, it appears that a little more than half of the state's more than 12,000 public school teachers will receive the bonus, said DOE personnel director Sandra McFarlane.