Hawaii schools close again with no deal on furloughs
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Today marks the eighth day of lost class time for Hawai'i's public school students due to teacher furloughs, and there is still no sign that teachers, their union, the governor and state education officials are any closer to an agreement to reduce the number of furlough days.
Two formal proposals to end or reduce teacher furlough days have come and gone — one rejected by the Hawaii State Teachers Association and one by Gov. Linda Lingle — since the unpaid days off were instituted Oct. 23 to help close the state's unprecedented bud-get deficit.
Lingle announced a new proposal Jan. 8 and emphasized the importance of acting quickly. Yet as of yesterday, Wil Okabe, HSTA president, said the teachers union still has no details of Lingle's new plan.
"We have not received any proposal from the governor 's office. It doesn't seem that the priority is ending the furlough days, so therefore we will have another furlough day this Friday," Okabe said.
Jo Curran of Hawaii Education Matters, a grassroots group of parents seeking an end to furloughs, said parent organizations are frustrated and angry that a solution has not been agreed upon so late into the school year.
"There is a such a sense of hopelessness. There is a real sense that parents have been completely let down by leaders," Curran said.
Linda Smith, senior adviser to the governor, said the administration is still working with the state budget department and the state Department of Education to hash out details of "nonstaff costs" of opening schools.
"The other issue we're still working out is the school-level personnel and who minimally do we really need to come back to work on those furlough Fridays," Smith said.
Those two details were also sticking points in Lingle's original furlough reduction proposal. It was one of the main reasons the teachers union said it was unwilling to agree to the proposal.
Alex Da Silva, spokesman for the state Board of Education, said negotiators from the board have requested answers from the administration regarding those details.
"One of the concerns with the proposal the governor put out is that it still requires the department to put in millions of dollars that it does not have," Da Silva said. "There are also concerns of health and safety of students, whether schools will be staffed adequately."
Union and education officials had 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.
Education officials warn-ed that the $19.3 million shortage would result in layoffs of 2,500 full-time employees, increased class sizes and loss of school-level programs.
Lingle's new proposal came after she rejected a tentative agreement between education officials and the HSTA. That pact would have restored seven of the 10 remaining furlough days in the current school year by using $35 million from the state's rainy-day fund.
Okabe said the union is frustrated that it has still not received any details about the governor 's plan directly from the state.
Da Silva said the board will present a formal proposal to the HSTA once all the issues have been worked out with the governor's office.
"Nothing has been scheduled with the HSTA because we do not have a proposal to offer yet," Da Silva said.
Okabe said the objections the union had to Lingle's original proposal are likely to be issues in her new plan.
"It seems to me, from what I'm reading in the media, that it's the same plan she talked about when she came back from China, minus a couple of days because we've already taken more furlough days," Okabe said.
He said the union is particularly interested in seeing details of who would be considered "essential" workers on restored furlough Fridays. The governor's original proposal would have covered the salaries of only classroom teachers, Okabe said, and excluded resource teachers, librarians, custodians and other school staff.
"It is our position that all teachers are essential. Resource teachers, counselors, curriculum coordinators, tech coordinators, all of those teachers are essential workers," Okabe said.
Curran said many parents are disappointed that the governor appears to be offering the same plan as before. "Right in the very beginning we brought up the word compromise. We said, for this to work there must be a willingness to compromise. I don't think taking what you want to the table and leaving it there and walking away is compromise. I think it's stubbornness," Curran said.