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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 25, 2009

Hawaii parents waiting on details of plan to reduce furlough days

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

Parent groups that protested against the furloughs of public school teachers did not want to call recent news of a tentative agreement between the state Department of Education the Hawaii State Teachers Association a victory until more details are released.

Hawaii Education Matters and Save Our Schools Hawaii are grassroots parent organizations that emerged after the governor and state public school teachers ratified a two-year contract that called for 17 furlough days a year. Representatives from both groups have put unrelenting pressure on the state administration and the teachers' union to end public school furloughs.

"This has been such an up and down negotiation, with days of celebration and then days of disaster," said Jo Curran, a parent from Hawaii Education Matters. "I would like to say I feel great, I feel positive, but how can you when you don't even know what the agreement is, really?"

Negotiators from the Department of Education and the Board of Education reached a tentative agreement with the Hawaii State Teachers Association on Wednesday morning, though they did not release any details, including how many furlough days would be restored.

The deal needs the approval of HSTA's 30-member board and the full Board of Education. It also will require action from the state Legislature, and then approval from Gov. Linda Lingle.

Marguerite Higa, a parent with Save Our Schools Hawaii, the group that held a rally at the state Capitol on the first furlough Friday, said education officials should not remain mum about the details of the agreement.

"I'm glad that they are making progress. I think it's imperative that the kids get back to school on furlough days. But it's disappointing that there is no transparency in this process," Higa said.

Curran praised the DOE for continuing to negotiate a solution with the state teachers' union after the governor's negotiators walked away from the table last week.

The furloughs began in October, and so far have closed Hawai'i public schools for seven Fridays this school year. Lingle said last month she wanted to cancel the remaining 27 furlough days and was willing to use $50 million from the state's rainy-day fund to do it.

Last week, the union expressed concerns that the governor's plan to restore furlough days would have resulted in a $19 million budget shortfall for the Department of Education, which officials said would force layoffs of 2,500 full-time school employees, increase class sizes and eliminate some school programs.

Curran said she didn't think it was necessary to restore all 27 days.

"Any days that the kids are back in school is fantastic. At this point, given the economic reality, I don't think it's necessary to restore all days," she said.

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa will be briefed Monday by state Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi.

Hanabusa said she would need to know the details of the plan for a Legislature special session to occur before the opening of the regular session on Jan. 20.

Toguchi said the board expects to release more information about the agreement next week.

Lingle proposed on Nov. 15 to use the rainy-day funds to restore teacher salaries for 12 days, and then require teachers to swap their planning days for instructional days to restore 15 additional furlough days. Lingle's negotiating team had been adamant that all remaining 27 furlough days in the teachers' two-year contract be restored.

Both sides last week were unable to agree how to restore furlough days, mainly because union and Department of Education officials say they are worried that Lingle's plan, by their tally, was $19.3 million short of what it would cost to restore 27 furlough days. That's even if teachers were to swap their planning days without additional pay, as the governor has suggested.

The teachers' union has also expressed concern about giving up the roughly 10 yearly planning days.