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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hawaii parent groups propose compromise on school furloughs


Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Gov. Linda Lingle

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Two grassroots parent organizations yesterday released their own plan to reduce Hawai'i's public school furloughs, saying it represents a compromise between Gov. Linda Lingle's proposal and a supplemental agreement already reached between the state Board of Education and the teachers union.

The parents' plan would eliminate 15 of the remaining 21 furlough days through a combination of money from the Hurricane Relief Fund or some other emergency funds and teachers giving up planning days. The plan would leave six days unresolved.

While the two parent groups celebrated their proposal as a potential end to furloughs, in reality the plan represented little more than a feel-good gesture, considering that Hawaii Education Matters and Save Our Schools Hawaii are not part of the collective bargaining process.

Lingle said yesterday the plan misses the mark by leaving six furlough days unresolved. And state Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi said the parents' plan can't be taken to the union, since the BOE and Hawaii State Teachers Association have already reached a legally binding supplemental agreement to eliminate furloughs.

In other words, the furlough situation remains unchanged since the governor's declaration on Tuesday that a resolution to the lost instructional days is far from imminent.

"The proposal announced today by Hawaii Education Matters and Save our Schools unfortunately does not accomplish what most parents want eliminate once and for all furlough Fridays in our schools and return children to the classroom," Lingle said in a statement.

"I appreciate that parents have been working to develop constructive solutions to return children to the classroom. I encourage these parents to ask HSTA to reopen the negotiations."

'THE PEOPLE'S PLAN'

Under the parents' plan, which they've dubbed "The People's Plan," nine days would be eliminated at a cost of $55 million. That figure is based on the $6.1 million a day it costs to run the school system with all employees and operating expenses such as electricity, water and bus transportation.

In addition, teachers would give up six planning days, as they have already voted to do under the supplemental agreement between the HSTA and the BOE.

That would eliminate all scheduled furlough days up to March 21, 2011, leaving six furlough days between then and the end of the 2010-11 school year.

The parents say they hope lawmakers and the next elected governor would resolve those remaining six days.

"Given what the governor and others have put on the table and said they are willing to do, this is what we have come up with. We are very hopeful and believe it is a workable solution," said Lois Yamauchi, with SOS Hawaii, whose children attend Mānoa Elementary and University Laboratory School, a public charter school.

Jo Curran, with Hawaii Education Matters, said the plan was well received by the top gubernatorial candidates. She said she believed the next governor is likely to inherit public school furloughs.

"If this doesn't work, I think the community is going to be disappointed in the current leadership at a level we haven't yet seen," Curran said.

Toguchi reiterated that the BOE and HSTA already have come to a legally binding, $92 million supplemental agreement to deal with furloughs. He said he was pleased to see that the parents used the $6.1 million figure in their per-day calculations to run the school system because it represents bringing all employees back to work.

"It is an endorsement of the proposal we already have with the teachers," Toguchi said. "It's not a plan that I can take to the HSTA and say, 'Let's work out a new deal.' "

He said the plan essentially would amount to funding only part of the supplemental agreement with the teachers union. But he applauded the parents for working toward a solution to furloughs.

HSTA President Wil Oka-be said he believed the parents' efforts have put pressure on leaders to find a solution. He said the parent plan demonstrates the "flexibility" of the supplemental agreement between the union and the BOE.

"With regard to implementation, we are on the same page as the parents and our agreement always provided for the kind of implementation the parents are proposing. We hope this flexibility will enable lawmakers and the governor to do what's best for Hawai'i's children by ending the remaining furloughs and getting them back on a normal academic calendar," he said in a written statement.

"The HSTA does not believe anyone wants to take the option of leaving the status quo in place. Certainly, the teachers have demonstrated that they believe students need to be back in the classroom and teachers want to be there teaching them."

CANDIDATE SUPPORT

Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said the parents are "working to fill a leadership vacuum which has caused furlough Fridays." He called on the governor to force a solution.

"If all parties, including the governor, legislative leaders, and unions, agree to the terms of their proposal, I will certainly do my part in resolving the remaining six days when I become governor," Abercrombie said in a written statement.

"That said, I continue to believe that negotiations cannot be conducted through the media. All parties must be present in a room, face-to-face, meeting continuously until a resolution is reached. It is the governor's responsibility, as leader of the state, to call the parties together now in a spirit of reconciliation, and I urge her to do so for the sake of our children and to preserve our sense of community."

Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, said the parent plan will "jump-start" discussions.

"The devil is in the details, however, and it behooves all parties to engage in what I hope will be meaningful consideration of this latest proposal," he said in a statement. "I'm certainly up to the challenge given my hands-on experience in dealing with collective bargaining as mayor, and would welcome the chance to lend my thoughts to the process."

The campaign of Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who is also running for governor, could not be reached yesterday for comment.