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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lingle won't use $35M stimulus to ease Hawaii school furloughs

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

The Lingle administration squashed the idea that $35 million in federal stimulus money might be used to reduce public school furlough days.

For the past week, lawmakers and education officials have expressed interest in using the money to get rid of some of the 17 days cut from the school calendar this year to help close a budget deficit.

Linda Smith, Gov. Linda Lingle's senior policy adviser, told The Advertiser yesterday the administration has no intention to spend the $35 million to reduce furlough days.

Smith reiterated that the governor intends to spend the money on education improvements required under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and that it will be split between the University of Hawai'i and the state Department of Education.

"The governor has dedicated this funding which she could have spent on prisons, highways, anything else to meeting these educational assurances," Smith said. "We generally agree that returning children to the classroom and restoring instructional time is a high priority. We believe it can be done without tapping these very limited, one-time available funds that are targeted to improving the quality of instruction."

It is still unclear exactly how the $35 million will be allocated. But Smith noted that charter schools and the governor's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math initiative are high on the list of priorities.

Earlier this week, Charter Schools Executive Director Maunalei Love indicated that charters were promised $24 million of the $35 million. But Smith said it is premature to say exactly how much charters will receive.

"We know that the charter schools have done an excellent job of putting together a plan that would have them spending up to $24 million. It is a little too early to say whether that is the total that they will receive," Smith said.

Smith's statements came just a day after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted that with the furlough days in place, Hawai'i has weakened its case to receive a portion of competitive federal grant dollars. He was critical of the state's budgetary choices, saying they reflect the state's priorities.

"When you have tough budget times, what you do with scarce resources reflects your priorities. I don't know anyone who could make a case that eliminating 10 percent of your school days is good for Hawai'i," he said Thursday.

The Obama administration's education reform priorities include equitable distribution of teachers between affluent and poor schools, using student data to improve student performance, improving the lowest-performing schools and tying student performance to teacher evaluations.

The Board of Education, teachers and Lingle agreed in September to a new contract that included the 17 furlough days, equivalent to a 7.9 percent pay cut. The furlough days are all scheduled for Fridays. The fourth furlough day will be this Friday.

The furlough days were part of the Department of Education's plan to address some $227 million in cuts mandated by Lingle and lawmakers. Those cuts include about $127 million slashed by Lingle in a 14 percent budget restriction equivalent to three furlough days a month.

Smith said the administration is exploring various options to reduce furlough days for public school teachers, but most options will require the state DOE, the state BOE and the HSTA to agree.

One option includes restoring some or all of the remaining furlough Fridays and then rescheduling them at the end of the year. The option may not necessarily add instructional days back to the calendar, but it would solve problems of continuity of instruction, she said.

"It would make the furlough days less inconvenient for families," Smith said.

Another option would be for schools to lengthen their Wednesday, which is typically a shorter day at most schools to accommodate staff meetings. Smith estimated that if a school were to lengthen their Wednesdays through the rest of the year, it would result in an additional 6 1/2 days to the calendar.

"These are all options that are up for discussion."

She also noted that the governor and state Superintendent of Schools Patricia Hamamoto have urged school principals to seek exemptions for their waiver days or planning and collaboration days, thereby adding up to six days back to the school calendar.

A total of 95 schools have already received approval for such exemptions, and yesterday was the final deadline for schools to submit requests to the state Board of Education.