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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010

Why the latest HSTA deal makes sense


Commentary

By Garrett Toguchi and Wil Okabe

The Board of Education and the Hawai'i State Teachers Association have reached an agreement that represents the best opportunity to end furlough Fridays and return students to a normal academic year in a fiscally responsible way.

With negotiations completed, the next step is to secure funding to implement the agreement. We have spoken with legislators and are optimistic. Teachers will have an opportunity to voice their support during a confirmation vote on Wednesday.

If the teachers affirm the agreement, the Legislature has the ability to fund it in an existing bill, pass it expeditiously, and send it to the governor before the next scheduled furlough day on April 23.

The Legislature is not considering competing proposals. The only vehicle to end furloughs is the agreement between the BOE and the HSTA. If the Legislature funds the agreement, then it will be up to the governor to determine whether or not she wants to end furloughs.

While Gov. Lingle has objected to releasing the funds because of Hawai'i's fragile economy, we are not ignoring the economic realities either. But in tough times government needs to prioritize. The economy should not serve as an excuse to deprive students of an education.

This is what students, parents, and the general public are saying they have made it clear they believe education is a priority. We hope the governor will listen to them.

Regarding cost concerns and the need to cut back on staffing and services, we believe that if students need an established array of services Monday through Thursday, they deserve the same services on Friday.

It will cost $92 million to pay for teachers, along with the educational assistants, occupational therapists and counselors for special needs students, as well as the other personnel, lighting, water, and additional operational requirements. Yes, that is a lot of money, but it is the cost to restore all furlough days at 256 schools statewide, serving more than 179,000 students, if you want to do it right.

The best funding source at this point is the Hurricane Relief Fund.

There is more than enough money in the fund to eliminate furlough days this year and next while leaving the fund with a substantial balance. Using the Hurricane Relief Fund exclusively leaves the so-called Rainy Day Fund available to pay for social services for the elderly, children and the mentally ill.

Both parties have compromised, with the teachers giving up planning and preparation days, and the BOE agreeing to pay for restoration of the remaining furlough days.

We also agreed the health and safety of students must be protected and the quality of instruction preserved, which will be ensured by having all personnel and support staff at our schools on Fridays, just as they are on any other school day.

After negotiating an agreement in December that required but did not receive the governor's approval, we did not lose heart and went back to work.

We believe the hard work and tough decisions were worth the effort and that the result we have now is a fair agreement for students, public employees, and taxpayers.