Teachers, governor reach deal to implement contract
By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer
As Hawai'i braces for the economic effects of last week's terrorist attacks on the Mainland, the governor yesterday agreed to implement the long-stalled teachers contract, with the exception of a professional bonus that has been the focus of months of bickering.
Although it does not appear to be the sole reason for the agreement, both the governor and teachers union cited the need to concentrate on larger challenges facing the state.
"It is important that our teachers can focus on teaching their students and helping their students deal with the tragic events of Sept. 11," said Hawai'i State Teachers Association President Karen Ginoza. "It is also important that the energies in the state be focused on the problems that have been created by the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C."
Gov. Ben Cayetano also said he's very pleased the two sides have reached an agreement and set the matter aside because he expects the teachers' union will join other labor groups in helping the state deal with economic issues resulting from the terrorist attacks.
The agreement is a major breakthrough in teachers' contract negotiations, which have become increasingly contentious as the two sides argued over a professional bonus and whether it was intended to be paid for one or two years.
About 6,400 teachers were eligible for the professional bonus at the end of the past school year.
While the matter has remained unresolved, the rest of the contract including pay raises and a $1,100 retention bonus also had been stalled. Some have charged that the dispute was leading to morale problems in the schools and hindering efforts to end Hawai'i's teacher shortage.
A solution to the professional bonus has yet to be hashed out, but yesterday's agreement means that Hawai'i's nearly 13,000 teachers will receive the rest of the raises that were agreed to when they ended April's strike.
Schools chief Paul LeMahieu praised the governor's gesture, saying it will help the schools attract and keep teachers and encourage those in the system to continue working on reforms.
"I believe it will have a great deal of beneficial impact on morale," he said.
Ginoza said she hopes that teachers will receive the money in about a month. Attorneys also indicated that the raises will be retroactive.
Attorney David Fairbanks, who is representing the state in the case, said he believes the governor "is putting the machinery in motion right now" to implement the contract.
Fairbanks announced the agreement at a pre-hearing conference before the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board early yesterday.
The board is tasked with hearing complaints filed by both parties and ruling on the bonus dispute. It will begin hearing the case on Oct. 22, although board chairman Brian Nakamura yesterday encouraged the two sides to seek binding arbitration or a grievance procedure instead.
Despite earlier saying that the state would appeal an unfavorable ruling from the board, the governor yesterday said the state will accept its ultimate decision.
"If they rule against the state we will live by that, and we'll have to find the money," he said.
The HSTA had filed a motion on Friday asking the board to force the state to implement the undisputed portion of the contract. With yesterday's agreement, that motion will be withdrawn.
Cayetano's press secretary, Kim Murakawa, yesterday said the governor's offer was the renewal of an offer made to the union in August. Union officials disagreed, saying the governor had originally proposed separating out the disputed bonus and renegotiating it, including who was eligible to receive it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.