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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lingle fires back at HSTA over filing

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Gov. Linda Lingle called a prohibited-practice complaint filed against her Monday by the Hawaii State Teachers Association "frivolous ," saying it "lacks substance and merit."

The union's complaint with the state labor board says Lingle "willfully and unlawfully" killed a tentative agreement with the Board of Education that would have ended furlough Fridays for the rest of the school year.

The agreement, reached in December, would have resulted in seven furlough days being cut this year by using $35 million from the state's so-called "rainy-day" fund. It would have left 17 furlough days for the next school year.

Lingle rejected the plan and offered one of her own, in which $50 million in rainy-day money would be used to cancel 24 furlough days both this year and next.

HSTA's complaint says Lingle does not have authority to kill the plan and asks the labor board to force Lingle to fund the original agreement.

Lingle, in a written statement Monday, fired back, "The HSTA's latest action proves once again that the union leaders care more about money than educating Hawai'i's children. Instead of accepting the generous offer of $50 million I proposed last November that will allow the immediate return of children and teachers to the classroom, the HSTA is spending their time on frivolous complaints."

HSTA President Wil Okabe said the governor has not shown a willingness to compromise with the union.

"We have taken this step reluctantly," Okabe said yesterday. "We have exhausted all other means to get the governor to live up to commitments and responsibilities. We believe our case against the governor is solid. She should not have stopped the process she authorized, which would have ended the furlough Fridays."

Okabe also said teachers will be offended by the governor's statement claiming the HSTA does not care about children.

"It was the governor, not the teachers, who cut the education budget by 14 percent. It was the governor, not the teachers, who called for the furloughs in the first place," Okabe said. "Teachers have made every effort to reduce the impact of furloughs, while the governor has never budged on her position."

HSTA and the Board of Education have said they are concerned the governor's plan would not fund the salaries for all school-level employees to return to work, including security guards, health aides, cafeteria workers and others.

Union and education officials have estimated the DOE would face a $19.3 million budget shortfall under the governor's plan. That's even if teachers swap their planning days, without additional pay, as the governor is still suggesting.

"It's clear that the HSTA sees their chance to squeeze more money out of taxpayers slipping away as others in the community lobby legislators for portions of the limited rainy-day fund," Lingle said. "Their unwillingness to resolve the issue of returning children to school is evident by this most recent complaint that lacks substance and merit."