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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 18, 2010

Stop using keiki as bargaining chips

By David Shapiro

In divorce disputes where children are involved, the first rule of family law is that the well-being of the kids always comes first.

It is never, ever considered OK for the battling adults to use the young ones as weapons to get their way.

Imagine how things might have been different if this philosophy had been applied to the teacher furlough fiasco, in which the keiki never had a place at the negotiating table except as bargaining chips.

What if somebody had stood up at the very beginning and said, "Whatever we do to deal with the budget deficit, the first priority is to make sure we take care of the kids"?

Instead, it seemed as if the intent was to maximize the disruption to student learning as an 8 percent teacher pay cut somehow translated into a 10 percent reduction in student class days, leaving Hawai'i with the fewest in the nation.

Gov. Linda Lingle signed off on it because she wanted a labor settlement any labor settlement to break the logjam with public workers on the payroll savings she needed to balance the budget.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association appeared to hope that putting hurt on students and their parents would create exactly the crisis atmosphere that ensued and help teachers get back their lost pay.

The Board of Education wanted to express its pique at having to take the same budget cuts as other state departments as the deficit soared past $1 billion, instead of being given special immunity from the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Hawai'i's senior U.S. senator, Daniel K. Inouye, hit the nail on the head when he said, "The one thing that has deeply concerned me is that throughout the negotiations and discussions, very seldom do you hear the word 'student' being used.

"It's 'teachers' pay' or 'state budget,' " Inouye said. "I would hope that the responsible parties ... would get together and determine what is essential for our kids, and then work around it. Focus on the kids. It is not about the budget and not about teachers pay. That's the way I look at it."

That's a good thought for Lingle, the school board and HSTA to keep in mind.