Lingle revises furlough plan
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday laid out her latest proposal to reduce furlough days at Hawai'i public schools and urged teachers and the Board of Education to take the deal before the Legislature convenes Jan. 20.
Her plan would put kids back in the classroom for 24 of the 27 remaining furlough days scheduled for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.
Lingle's previous proposal would have restored all 27 classroom days.
The latest plan calls for using $50 million from the state's "rainy day" emergency fund to eliminate 12 furlough days. Lingle wants 12 additional classroom days restored by having teachers give up 12 non-instructional days.
"Once the session opens, as you know, every interest group, every social service agency is going to be fighting for what they believe to be their fair share of those (rainy day) funds," Lingle told reporters yesterday.
"The teachers (and) the union need to recognize there is a window, and it's shutting a little bit each day as you're leading up to the session because there are other people who have an eye on those monies as well," the governor said.
Lingle's plan is similar to the one she offered Nov. 15 that would have restored all 27 days between now and June 30, 2011. That plan sought to convert 15 non-instructional days, rather than 12.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state Board of Education yesterday afternoon said they had not yet formally received the latest offer and gave only limited comment.
BOE spokesman Alex Da Silva said board negotiators met with the governor's team yesterday morning to discuss reducing furloughs.
"The board has not yet received a reply or a revised proposal from the Governor's office," BOE Chairman Garrett Toguchi said in a written statement. "We will not engage in a public negotiation, which could jeopardize the integrity of the negotiation process and further delay restoration of instructional time for students."
HSTA President Wil Okabe said in a statement that unlike the previous tentative agreement, "we were not invited to collaborate on the plan that we understand the governor has sent to the news media.
"As always, we remain open and available to discuss ways to end the furloughs. We plan to meet with the (Department of Education) and BOE next week to continue our efforts on that front."
Not happy with Lingle's original proposal, the HSTA has worked with the school board and DOE to come up with an alternative plan restoring seven of the remaining 10 furlough days this school year, but not addressing next school year's 17 furlough days.
Lingle rejected that proposal in part because it did not deal with next school year's furlough days and she criticized the teachers union for stalling.
"The foot-dragging that has occurred hoping that I will somehow agree to a partial settlement, it's just not going to happen," Lingle said yesterday. "I'm not going to do that. We need a certainty for parents and for students going forward."
Teachers need to recognize that the state is "in a financial crisis, that it's not business as usual," the governor said.
"Even though you usually have 10 planning days, next year you should be willing to give up those planning days," she said. "You simply can't make a case that planning to teach is more important than actually teaching. So we're saying days that you plan for teaching you should now be teaching."
State Sen. Brian Taniguchi, D-10th (Mānoa, McCully), who led a Senate special committee on teacher furloughs, said that, like Lingle, he would have preferred a solution that dealt with furloughs over the entire two-year contract with teachers. But if that was not possible, he said the governor should at least try to reduce the furloughs this school year.
"I would have hoped she might have compromised so that we could at least deal with this semester," he said. "Next year, I think you have a little more flexibility to deal with the schedule and all that stuff."
At a BOE meeting Thursday night, Toguchi, the BOE chairman, was asked by several of his colleagues to step down from his leadership post. Several said they were unhappy that they were not informed about former DOE Superintendent Pat Hamamoto's decision to retire until several days after Toguchi was notified. They've also been unhappy with the way Toguchi has handled the furlough issue.
Lingle would not comment on board meetings but said that during negotiations, "I think the chairman has personalized this too much. I read his comments in the paper and he seems to aim his comments at me while I just aim my comments at the proposals."
The governor added: "I'm trying to stick to the facts because this is about the children, it's not about the adults who are involved in negotiating this. I've been concerned over many weeks that the current chairman talks in too personal of terms. I think he needs to drop all that personality and attacking individual people and just focus on the facts."
Da Silva said Toguchi had no comment on Lingle's statements yesterday.
Lingle yesterday also said that if furlough Fridays continue, she wants the DOE and school board to consider revamping the schedule.
"I would suggest to them that they take the furlough days and instead of a Friday here and there, they bulk it up at the end of the school year and let the regular school year progress so parents are not faced every other Friday with this issue," she said. "If they're going to remain, let's have them all at one time so parents can plan better."