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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, June 10, 2001

Sloppy teacher pact must not break deal

Something has gone terribly wrong in the implementation of the new statewide public school teacher contract.

Those involved, who include the union, the Board of Education, the superintendent and the state's chief labor negotiator, have an obligation to get this fixed, and fixed fast.

The new contract was supposed to be a breakthrough in rewarding and encouraging professional development and higher standards for teachers. One of the ways that would be accomplished would be to offer bonus incentives to teachers who have advanced degrees or professional diplomas.

The money to pay for these 3 percent bonuses was supposed to come out of the department's own budget; that is, the Legislature was not asked for extra dollars specifically for these professional bonuses.

But now that the contract is ready to sign, the Board of Education is balking at the price tag. It is not entirely clear where the confusion comes from, but it is serious.

The bonus was originally estimated during negotiations to cost around $6.7 million.

When the matter got to the Board of Education, the numbers were re-crunched and the tab came out to around $11.4 million when all impacts were considered.

The teachers' union, meanwhile, says the bonus program is worth around $20 million in the new contract and must be paid.

How numbers could vary so widely is mysterious. Part of it is due to better calculation on fringe benefits and associated costs. Part of it is in what apparently were fairly ambiguous definitions of who qualifies for the bonus based on possession of a master's degree or a professional diploma.

There is even confusion over whether this is supposed to be a one-time or ongoing program.

This appalling confusion must not evolve into a deal-breaker. The proposed contract was painful to achieve. It took a 19-day strike by the teachers and a large amount of creativity on the part of negotiators.

The result, at least temporarily, was a fairly high level of goodwill and enthusiasm for a contract that would move our schools toward higher standards, greater professionalism and greater rewards.

That achievement must not be lost, and an agreement this vague and sloppy must not happen again