Governor's furlough offer is realistic
By Linda Smith
The opportunity to eliminate furlough Fridays in the next school year has been made possible through the Legislature's willingness to make available $67 million from the Hurricane Relief Fund for this purpose.
These funds, however, do not address the elimination of the three remaining furlough days this school year. The opportunity to do so rests entirely with the Board of Education and the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
Unfortunately, the chairman of the BOE and the leaders of the teachers union are not willing to take even the first step that will allow children back into the classroom for the remainder of this school year and the next.
Gov. Linda Lingle, responding to teachers and principals who have expressed interest in ending furlough Fridays, suggested on Sunday that Department of Education personnel consider voluntarily returning to schools for the last three furlough days of this school year. As the governor said, "This would be a welcome and significant gesture to heal our community."
State law (Chapter 90, Hawai'i Revised Statues) allows individuals and organizations to volunteer their time and talents to help the public. Many dedicated Department of Education employees already volunteer their time to help out before and after school and with many school-related activities outside of their normal teaching assignments. These individuals give generously of their time and talents and we are thankful that they do so.
While federal labor laws place limits on some hourly public workers that limit their ability to volunteer for work they perform in their normal paid capacity, the Department of Education could easily identify these individuals and process appropriate compensation for the additional hours they give back to allow children to return to the classroom.
We know however, that decisions can be made at each school to return on certain furlough days. Late last year, parents, teachers and school administrators at 184 of the 256 public schools decided to eliminate one or more furlough days by giving up non-instructional days. We also know that 17 public charter schools voted against taking furloughs. These actions are commendable and demonstrate that teachers and school staff members are able to make decisions in the best interests of the children.
Volunteering to provide three days of service on behalf of the children and taxpayers of our state can make it possible to recover what will otherwise be lost educational days in the remaining time of this year.
Instead, the HSTA and BOE deride the governor's recommendation and continue their opposition toward reasonable, responsible and fiscally prudent solutions, despite the financial reality facing this state.
Across the country, schools are struggling to sustain educational opportunities despite the financial crisis that has necessitated reductions in education funding and classroom hours in addition to massive teacher layoffs. In order to cope with this situation during these difficult times, sacrifice and volunteerism combined with the reasonable expenditure of limited state funds offer opportunities to alleviate the furlough situation we face today.
The governor is willing to allow the DOE to decide who their critical employees are but the union and the chair of the BOE feel otherwise.
But if they are reasonable and realistic, solutions are available. In short, where there is a will, there is a way. The HSTA and the chairman of the BOE are saying, "No way, no can" at the very moment when the community needs to hear "Yes, we can and yes, we will."