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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 3, 2010

It's BOE, HSTA's move on furloughs

By David Shapiro

Gov. Linda Lingle's proposal that public school teachers work this year's last three furlough Fridays for free is obviously a nonstarter that would be unfair to teachers, logistically difficult and possibly illegal.

But if we forget about this year and focus on next year, we could be very close to a deal to do away with furloughs in the 2010-11 school year.

The Legislature approved $67 million from the Hurricane Relief Fund to eliminate the 17 furlough days next year, the amount requested by the Board of Education and Hawaii State Teachers Association.

But Lingle doesn't believe every single employee needs to be taken off furlough to open the schools and has said she'll release only $57 million to cover essential employees.

That set off a new round of fulminating and name-calling by BOE chairman Garrett Toguchi and HSTA chief Wil Okabe. But $10 million isn't very far apart compared to the $30 million a couple of weeks ago, and there's a deal to be had if the two sides are willing to stop finger-pointing and start bargaining.

Lingle has compromised by increasing her original offer of $50 million for two years to $57 million for one year. She's also backed off her demand that ending furloughs be tied to giving the governor the power to appoint the school superintendent.

Now it's the turn of the BOE and HSTA to show some movement to settle this. Their insistence that it's all or nothing is indefensible.

They could negotiate to split the difference at the $62 million Lingle once floated. Or, if the BOE feels obliged to give the union every penny it demands even though the governor says we can't afford it, the board could divert $10 million from elsewhere in the department's budget to cover the difference.

The schools dodged a bullet when lawmakers took money to end furloughs from the hurricane fund instead of from Department of Education general funds, as originally proposed by the House.

If House budget writers thought up to $50 million could be cut, surely the BOE can find $5 million or $10 million to bridge the gap with Lingle and end this prolonged stalemate that has ripped apart our community.

To continue bickering instead of settling this when they're so close would be obscene. Toguchi has made his political fight with Lingle personal, and if he can't see that it's his first responsibility to get the kids back in class, then it's up to other board members to set him straight.