HSTA seeks help from Hawaii Legislature
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
The teachers union, which is at a stalemate with Gov. Linda Lingle over how to end furloughs, has turned to the state Legislature to resolve the issue.
If no action is taken, schools will be closed on nine Fridays between now and the end of the school year, including three Fridays in a row starting this week. Teacher furloughs began on Oct. 23 as a way to help balance the state budget.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association said in a written statement it wants lawmakers to support its plan to cut seven furlough days this year, using $35 million from the state's rainy day fund.
On Dec. 28, the union and state education officials agreed to that plan, but the governor rejected it. She came back with a plan to use $50 million from the rainy day fund to cancel 24 furlough days.
HSTA President Wil Okabe said Friday that the union is sticking to the Dec. 28 agreement it reached with the state Board of Education. Okabe called on lawmakers to provide the funding for that plan.
"As far as HSTA is concerned, the agreement is final and binding on all parties," Okabe said. "We encourage all HSTA members and the community to urge lawmakers to provide for adequate funding for the (Dec. 28) agreement."
Okabe reiterated that the Dec. 28 agreement does not require the governor's signature. He did say money to enact the plan relies on the governor.
"We realize that the governor has to be the one to fund it. The governor holds the key to releasing that money," he said.
"On Nov. 15, 2009, Gov. Lingle made a commitment to end furloughs by use of the rainy day fund," Okabe said. "We expect her to live up to that prior commitment."
What Lingle proposed on Nov. 15 was using $50 million of the rainy day fund to restore 27 furlough days this school year and next.
Linda Smith, the governor's senior policy adviser, said last week that the governor would not support action from the Legislature to fund the union's Dec. 28 agreement.
"The governor proposed a very responsible plan that solves furlough Fridays for this year and next year. She would be willing to spend $50 million to cover both of those periods. It is not acceptable to spend almost two-thirds of the available money to just solve the current year," Smith said.
Smith also said under the state Constitution, only the governor can request an emergency appropriation for the current fiscal year.
Rep. Roy Takumi, chairman of the state House Education Committee, said it is possible that lawmakers could set aside money to solve furlough days in the current school year.
"We could come up with an idea, a proposal to fund the furloughs for this year. Say it does reflect the supplemental (Dec. 28) agreement, ultimately the governor will have to decide whether she will release those funds," Takumi said.
There are proposals floating around the halls of the state Capitol to solve the furlough Fridays for the current school year, but they are not fully fleshed out yet, Takumi said. Announcement of those plans could happen as early as next week, he said.
The governor's office has been meeting with the BOE this week to clarify details in the governor's most recent furlough restoration proposal, Smith said. She said the governor hopes to gain the support of the BOE and HSTA for her plan.
State Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi, in a written statement, said the BOE has yet to receive all the details of the governor's most recent plan.
"The board has questions about the governor's proposal, and we hope to receive answers soon," Toguchi said. "The board remains committed to find a solution to reduce school furloughs. Board negotiators and DOE representatives are scheduled to meet with HSTA next week," he said.
Okabe said the HSTA has not received official details about the governor's proposal.
"We never got the plan. She only mentioned those things to the media," Okabe said.
Okabe said the objections the union had to Lingle's original proposal are likely to be issues in her new plan.
Among other concerns, union officials were opposed to the governor's original plan because they said the $50 million would not cover the salaries of all school employees to return to work. Education officials estimate the DOE would face a $19.3 million budget shortfall under the governor's original plan.