School-days bill may hit snag
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Several bills that would mandate a set number of instructional days or hours a year for public schools could be hindered by the provisions in the state Constitution that give public employees the right to collectively bargain labor contracts.
The state Senate's Committee on Education and Housing is expected to take up a bill today that would mandate a total of 190 days of instruction for public schools — Senate Bill 2336. But the committee was told Monday that any effort by lawmakers to require a set number of days or hours of instruction could be trumped by contract negotiations with employee unions.
"It doesn't change the fact that we still have a constitutional duty to negotiate with the unions. ... If you mandate it and we aren't able to negotiate it, I don't know what would happen," said James Halvorson, deputy attorney general with the Department of the Attorney General's Employment Law Division.
Lawmakers introduced several bills in both the state House and Senate that would mandate a set amount of instructional time, something most states have written into law. The Hawai'i measures came after the latest contract negotiation with the Hawaii State Teachers Association resulted in 17 furlough days in each of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.
The measures would not affect the current furloughs, as most of the bills would take effect in the 2011-12 school year.
Teacher furloughs, which began Oct. 23, dropped the total instructional days in Hawai'i to 163, the lowest in the country. The second-lowest is North Dakota at 173. Thirty states have 180 instructional days, according to the Education Commission of the States.
Halvorson said that while most states have a law or code that mandates a minimal number of instructional days, they also have state constitutions that do not require public employee collective bargaining.
"We're in a very different situation than many other states are. We are one of the very few states that has a constitutional provision for public-sector collective bargaining. The feds have nothing like it," he said.
Sen. Norman Sakamoto, D-15th (Waimalu, Airport, Salt Lake), chairman of the Senate's education committee, said unions are required to negotiate on issues relating to wages, conditions of employment and hours.
"We can stipulate a number of hours or a number of days of instruction in the law, but it wouldn't automatically happen. We would have to bargain it," Sakamoto said.
Rep. Roy Takumi, chairman of the state House's Committee on Education, said he doesn't believe that contract negotiations would be able to trump the law. His committee this week passed House Bill 2486, which would mandate a minimum of instructional minutes.
"The perspective I would have is, we have made changes by law on items such as School Community Councils, and National Board Certified Teacher bonuses that were previously decided by contract. That's the law," said Takumi, D-36th (Pearl City, Momilani, Pacific Palisades). "I don't think this is any different. If the Legislature determines we will have a certain number of instructional hours, when they sit down again at the table for the next contract negotiations, that would be the starting point."
The state Board of Education, state Department of Education and the Hawaii Teachers Association — the three groups that would be required to carry out any change to the law on instructional time — say they are in favor of increasing instructional time.
Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, in written testimony to the Legislature, said the union believes that lawmakers have the right to set the "parameters for collective bargaining" but that issues of hours and wages must be negotiated.
Okabe said increasing the number of instructional days to 190 would require an increase in the work year for teachers. The HSTA was open to that during the administrations of governors John Waihee and Ben Cayetano, he said. "Attempts to increase the work year for teachers have met with failure, not because we were opposed to them, but because the state was not willing to pay for the additional work time," Okabe said.
Interim schools superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi has pleaded that lawmakers fund the mandate.
"We would like to have the support of more instructional time, but it all does come with a cost. If you say we require 190 days but we're only going to give you the budget for 180 days, it's very difficult to do without the funding," Matayoshi said.
Daniel Hamada, assistant superintendent of instruction, said the school system would have to ensure that the additional time is quality time. "Let's say you increase the instruction time each day by one hour, you want that one hour to be of quality," Hamada said. "You want to have a real clear understanding of how those instructional minutes are being used."
Board of Education chairman Garrett Toguchi said he does not foresee issues with negotiating a mandated number of instructional days, likening the bills to the 2004 changes in the law that required the school system to adopt a unified calendar.
"That technically encroached on collective bargaining , and we've had to negotiate a single school calendar," Toguchi said. "Similarly with a 190-day school year, it would just be something that we would have to do, but the concern would be funding."