Hawaii governor details 'essential' workers list
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
A day after votes by Hawai'i lawmakers and the teachers union renewed pressure for resolution of the state's teacher furlough mess, Gov. Linda Lingle's office released new details about the "nonessential" personnel that have become a $30 million sticking point in the controversy.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state Board of Education have said for months that many school-level employees would not return to work on restored furlough days under Lingle's proposals.
However, Lingle's office said yesterday that her latest plan to end the remaining public school furlough days would not only bring back teachers, but also nurses, security guards, cafeteria workers and others.
It would not cover the majority of district- and state-level office workers, resource teachers, librarians and others.
"Nonessential Department of Education personnel include those who sit behind desks on Punchbowl Street or work in the complex area offices. The schools can operate without them for 21 days out of the next year-and-a-half," Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy adviser, said in a written statement.
Smith also said that the list of essential and nonessential personnel was created based on information supplied by the state Department of Education.
BOE Chairman Garrett Toguchi yesterday urged the Legislature to fund the $92 million plan endorsed by teachers Wednesday, and said the board and teachers union stand firm on its proposal to end furlough Fridays.
"With respect to the House Finance chair's call for the BOE, DOE, HSTA and the governor to come to an agreement (by April 12) — that time has passed," Toguchi said in a written statement. He said Lingle expressed a willingness to negotiate only after the BOE and the teachers union reached an agreement on a plan to end furlough Fridays.
Toguchi said the latest plan offered by the BOE and HSTA addresses two concerns of the governor and the Legislature — that a solution address furlough days in this school year and the next; and that teachers give up some planning days to reduce the number of furlough days.
"The board will now be requesting the Legislature to fund the agreement, and the governor to release the funds, so students and educators can return to school," he said in the statement.
The information on essential workers from Lingle's office came a day after teachers voted to support a deal between the HSTA and the state BOE that would bring back every employee in the public school system.
That was followed by a House Finance Committee agreement to provide money from the Hurricane Relief Fund to end teacher furloughs, but only if Lingle, the HSTA and school board reach an agreement by April 12.
Lingle's $62 million plan costs approximately one-third less than the proposal agreed upon by the HSTA and BOE. Their plan would cost $92 million to restore the four furlough days remaining this school year and the 17 planned for next year.
Smith said the HSTA-BOE plan is too expensive and that Lingle is willing to work with the BOE and the union on a solution that would return school children to class.
"By adding in nonessential employees, the HSTA has inflated the cost of reopening the schools and getting our children back in the classroom by $30 million. Bringing back employees that the DOE considers to be nonessential is unnecessary and something that we simply cannot afford," Smith said.
"The administration is prepared to continue to work with the DOE, BOE and HSTA to find an affordable way to return our children and teachers to school. It is indeed unfortunate that the HSTA says they won't do this."
HSTA president Wil Okabe has described the agreement between the union and the BOE as the last chance to end furloughs and has said the union would not negotiate another proposal.
It is unclear whether the essential and nonessential worker lists released yesterday by Lingle's office have been used over the past six months of negotiations to eliminate furlough Fridays.
The issue of essential versus nonessential employees was first raised in negotiations on Nov. 25. At that time, HSTA officials, after a meeting with the governor's office, claimed that the governor's plan to restore furlough days would only call back "essential" teachers, and would not cover the salaries of health aides, educational assistants, office staff, security guards or cafeteria workers.
Lingle's plan has changed several times since November, but union officials say they never received details of Lingle's most recent proposals. They have also filed a complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board accusing her of negotiating her plans in the media without presenting them directly to the union.
In an interview with The Advertiser on Nov. 25, Dwight Takeno, then HSTA executive director, said the governor had been misleading the public into thinking that restored furlough days would be like any other school day.
"Under her plan, it only funds teacher salaries," Takeno said. "It's like we're trying to shoot from the hip on a skeleton system, which does not fund any other position except for teachers. We know all the auxiliary staff — school security, health aides, counselors, the whole gamut of what makes a system run — is not in this budget."
The next furlough day for public schools is scheduled for April 23.