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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Work-for-free solution doesn't really work

After Gov. Linda Lingle's Sunday night announcement seeking "to heal our community" on the school furlough situation, anyone who sifts through the chaff will see a few kernels of truth emerge.

• There is no money to erase furlough days from the waning 2009-10 school calendar. The hurricane fund allotment the Legislature is poised to spend won't be available until July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

• It's absurd to expect teachers and staff to work for free for the three remaining furlough days in the current school year, as Lingle proposes. And it may violate federal labor law.

• It's also wholly unrealistic to expect individual schools to determine which teachers and staff are "essential" and which aren't in other words, who will work for free.

• It's unlikely that many teachers will voluntarily work for nothing, so any plan that hinges on enough of them doing so is as solid as a house built on sand.

More to the point: Why should the governor, or anyone, expect teachers to work for free? It's demeaning and further insults the teachers, who are caught in this bitter feud between Lingle and their union.

It's a relief that the Legislature is ready to pass a bill setting aside up to $67 million from the fund and that Lingle is ready to release $57.2 million of that.

This is progress.

But progress is illusory if not grounded in the reality that the current school year is nearly over. Parents are prepared to cope with the three remaining furlough days of this year. Attention should be turned to setting the next school calendar.

The reality is that the balance achieved in next year's budget is precarious. In truth, it will fall to the next governor to close the books when money runs short in this rickety spending plan.

When the furlough plan was adopted, many people, including the governor and this newspaper, endorsed it as less onerous than layoffs. It hasn't played out that attractively, and everyone is understandably backing away.

This latest offer from Lingle just seems calculated to outrage the teachers' union, which really doesn't help or heal anything.

So please, let's just forget the three days. We should all look forward to putting the ugliness of the tattered 2009-10 school year behind us and seeing a new calendar full of busy Fridays.