Deadline for furlough deal extended; sit-in continues
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Key lawmakers pushed back yesterday's legislative deadline to tomorrow for education and union officials and the governor to reach an agreement on eliminating the four remaining furlough Fridays in this school year.
State Rep. Marcus Oshiro, D-39th (Wahiawā), chairman of the House Finance Committee, said he was still optimistic that the three parties could hash out an agreement — and a dollar amount — so that lawmakers could tap the state's hurricane relief fund.
Oshiro said lawmakers need an assurance from Gov. Linda Lingle that she would release the money.
"The parties need to sit down as soon as possible and come to an agreement," Oshiro said.
Meanwhile, nine adults who were occupying the governor's office on day 6 of a sit-in to protest public school furloughs received trespassing citations from state sheriff's deputies last night. They were allowed to stay.
No one was arrested as of 7 p.m., but two people who had been also cited Friday were told they'd be arrested the next time. Seven people were cited Friday.
Lawmakers gave officials two more days to reach an accord, with Oshiro noting that the most recent agreement between the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state Board of Education has a deadline of April 21 for $24.5 million to be released so that teachers can return to the classroom on April 23.
If no agreement is reached by tomorrow, Oshiro said, the Legislature will probably only be able to appropriate money to restore the 17 furlough days on next year's school calendar.
Lawmakers and parents say they hope a compromise can be reached by the new deadline. But HSTA president Wil Okabe yesterday said the union has already come to a $92 million supplemental agreement with the state Board of Education and that there is no need for any additional talks.
"We are following the law," Okabe said, adding that, legally, any supplemental agreement with the union is between the BOE and the HSTA, not with the governor.
"The problem is the lawmakers realize that she has the power to release the funds," Okabe said. "I just don't understand what she wants. Does she want to end the furloughs, or not?"
Oshiro said the Legislature still has until the end of the session at the end of April to deal with the remaining 17 furlough days in next year's calendar. But he said that lawmakers still need some kind of agreement between the union, the BOE and the governor on a dollar amount.
"The teacher's request for next school (year) is based on their assumption that all personnel would be returning to schools. The governor's position is only those quote 'essential' positions would be returning to schools. That's where the disagreement is in the dollars," Oshiro said.
Following the overwhelming endorsement by HSTA members of the $92 million plan to eliminate the remaining 21 furlough days this year and next, the union asked lawmakers to fund the agreement, saying it had no further plans to negotiate with the governor.
Lingle has said the HSTA-BOE plan is too costly, by about $30 million, because it brings back all the public school system's employees. She's proposing bringing back only "essential" employees — mostly teachers and school-level support staff.
The governor has proposed spending $62 million to end the teacher furloughs, but the union said she has not presented her deal to them directly.
Meanwhile yesterday, a small group of parent protesters continued their round-the-clock sit-in at the governor's office, hoping for a resolution to the public school furloughs, which began in October.
The protest is coming off a weekend in which parents held a vigil outside of Washington Place, the governor's official residence. The sit-in began last Wednesday in the reception area of Lingle's office.
"We really want this to be about more than just us protesting. It's about the children and the state of Hawai'i's educational system," said Vernadette Gonzalez, a professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa and a parent of a Noelani Elementary kindergartner.
Lingle released a three-page letter to the group Sunday urging them to focus their efforts on the teachers union, the HSTA.
The group said yesterday that the letter missed the point.
"We are disappointed that your letter failed to address our central point: we need an end to furloughs now," the group wrote in an open letter to Lingle. "Rather than viewing our actions as an attack, it is an endorsement of your position as a leader. We see you, as the governor, as the leader of this state, and as the one person who has the power to resolve this educational crisis," they wrote.