Hawaii teacher furloughs will cut class time, not preparation days
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Staff Writer
In scheduling 17 furlough days that will shut down Hawai'i's public schools, the Department of Education and the Hawaii State Teachers Association agreed not to use any of the six available waiver and professional development days to offset the loss of instructional time or relieve parents of child-care worries.
Other cash-strapped school districts in the nation that have implemented furloughs are scheduling them to take place on teacher preparation and training days, though most are dealing with far fewer furlough days than Hawai'i's public schools.
HSTA members this week ratified a contract that called for 17 days of furloughs, equal to a 7.9 percent pay cut. The furloughs, to be taken over a series of Fridays, start Oct. 23.
In Georgia, teachers in 175 of the state's 180 school districts are being forced to take three unpaid days by the end of the year. North Carolina teachers, along with other state workers, were docked 10 hours. Teachers in the San Jose, Moorpark, Ojai and several other school districts in California have approved furloughs, most for only one or two days. Florida, Rhode Island and New Mexico also are considering unpaid leave as a way to cut costs without losing staff permanently.
Ed Muir, deputy director of research for the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, D.C., said canceling teacher preparation and training days is the first step many school districts take when scheduling furloughs, but it's not a sustainable solution.
"It's a hard choice. Do you give up instructional days or do you give up ... planning time to make instruction work? That's not a good choice to make and next year there will be more choices like this everywhere," he said.
In Hawai'i, school principals may submit a request, in consultation with the teachers union, to the Board of Education to cancel any of the six waiver or training days. They could do that this year, and that would make up for some of the days lost to furloughs. The union would not say yesterday if it favored that option.
Union and DOE officials also would not say if they opposed scheduling teacher furloughs on waiver days during recent contract negotiations. "Negotiation discussions are confidential," DOE Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said yesterday in an e-mail to The Advertiser.
Hawai'i is the only state with a single statewide school district.
A sampling of some school districts in other states showed they are getting by with fewer furlough days and scheduling them on non-teaching days.
Schools in Georgia were allowed to determine how to schedule the three furlough days, "and they chose non-instructional days such as preparation days and professional development days so no instruction time would be lost," said Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.
"Beyond the economic impact, you never want to do anything that is going to impact student achievement," he said. "But you can only take away so many planning days. At some point you're going to have to do something with instructional time."
Hubbard said educators made up the last group of state employees to face furloughs, and with tax revenues continuing on a downward trend, "it would not shock us" if state lawmakers require more unpaid leave for Georgia's 128,000 teachers next year.
"School districts had no choice but to furlough because they had depleted their reserve funds, or cut all the positions they could, or raised property taxes to their maximum rates. As we say in the South, there was no blood to squeeze out of that turnip," he said.
Muir said more school districts can be expected to employ furloughs as budget woes worsen.
"There is no good answer to not having enough money to provide the services you want," he said. "If you look at the way budget holes have been opening in the states from 2008 on, this is the second school year now of hard times and all the material we're looking at says budgets next school year starting a year from now are going to be worse."
The National Education Association trade union, of which the HSTA is an affiliate, opposes furloughs and layoffs as a means of responding to budget shortfalls.
"Our position is still that there are other ways we can deal with this crisis other than furloughing teachers or laying off educators. Even in an economic crisis, we should be finding money to invest in education," said NEA spokeswoman Cynthia Kain.
For example, Kain said, school districts in Oregon and elsewhere have cut back to four-day school weeks, with longer days, to save operational costs while not losing instructional time.
$117M IN SAVINGS
As painful as furloughs are, many teachers view unpaid leave as far more acceptable than layoffs.
California, facing an unprecedented $60 billion, two-year budget deficit, is dealing with $18 billion in education funding cuts this year by implementing widespread teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and curtailing athletic, gifted and music programs. The California Teachers Association said districts across the state have laid off more than 20,000 educators.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has paved the way for up to five furlough days for school districts as part of the state's massive budget cuts approved this summer, but it's up to districts to decide whether to use the unpaid leave.
In Hawai'i, the furloughs of 13,000 teachers are expected to result in an estimated $117 million in savings, far short of the $227 million in DOE budget cuts required by Gov. Linda Lingle.
HSTA president Wil Okabe said the closing of 256 campuses for those additional 17 furlough days will mean extra savings for the DOE to help make up the difference.
"By shutting down facilities on furlough days, the DOE will save millions of additional dollars in expenses for utilities, cafeteria services and supplies, over and above the labor costs represented by cutting teacher pay," he said in an e-mail.The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Christie Wilson at 808-244-4880.