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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lingle has 'no doubt' on deal to end Hawaii teacher furloughs next year

Advertiser Staff

Gov. Linda Lingle said that the likelihood of an agreement to end the four remaining furloughs for the current school year is slim, but said she is confident that the state Legislature will take action on the furloughs for next school year.

"My impression is that the union has taken such a hard position that it would be unlikely (an agreement) could possibly occur. They simply insist that everybody be brought back. They've sent out letters talking about union solidarity, and not just within their union," Lingle said.

She made the statement in a press conference this morning in her ceremonial room after inviting in a handful of parent protesters who have been conducting a sit-in at her office for the past seven days. The parents sat through the question-and-answer with the media holding their hands up with hopes the governor would address them directly. She did not take questions from the parents.

The governor dismissed tomorrow's deadline imposed by state Rep. Marcus Oshiro, chairman of the House Finance Committee, saying, "there is no deadline." The governor said if the Legislature wanted to, it could insert a blank dollar amount for the current school year into a budget bill since she, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state Board of Education has not come to an agreement on how much it should cost to reopen schools for the rest of the year.

"From all the legislators I've talked to, my impression is that everyone is looking at next year," she said.

The governor went on to say she was confident that the state Legislature will set aside money to take care of the 17 furloughs scheduled for next school year.

"Very confident the Legislature will find a way ... They will take some action to make money available for next year. I have no doubt about that," she said.

At one point, the governor addressed a question from a reporter asking if the school furlough issue would have been different if she had children. She laughed it off.

"This is not about whether the governor has children or doesn't have children. It's about having the money to afford what is being requested, and we just simply don't have the money. I'm not going to allow the state to get into an insolvent position," she said.

Afterward parent protesters said they were disappointed in her responses and planned to continue their sit-in, even with the threat that protesters could be arrested.

"It was a one-way conversation," said Jill Tao, a parent with Save Our Schools Hawaii. "We're only here because we know she holds the power of the purse, she's the one who can release the emergency funds to get rid of the furloughs."

Meanwhile, Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi issued the following statement today:

"I strongly urge the Legislature and the governor to provide funding to return students to school and avoid another furlough day on April 23. Today, the governor indicated a possibility to leave the four remaining furlough days in place this school year and instead focus on a solution for next school year. But the reality is we are not talking about just four more days, but about days No. 14, 15, 16 and 17 in which students would be out of school.

"The Board of Education, Department of Education and the Hawaii State Teachers Association have a fiscally responsible agreement to bring students back to class. In addition to being widely supported by teachers and parent groups, the agreement meets two key concerns from the Legislature and the governor in that it converts six planning days for instruction and eliminates all furlough days in both years.

"The bottom line is that special funds have sat idle for months while children are left out of schools. All parties, including the governor and the Legislature, agree that tapping a portion of the Hurricane Relief Fund to open schools will not impact the state budget, nor will it jeopardize the home insurance market. The Legislature and governor are able to stop furloughs at any time by appropriating special funds, or lifting the budget restriction imposed on public schools."